February 28, 2008

Ilena's Birthday, Famous People, Children Singing In Japanese

For Ilena's birthday, Mike came home early and we went out to a local restaurant that specializes in Tofu (a buffet). Ilena got special-delivery flowers (thanks Jack and Joyce!), lots of hugs and kisses from the kids, lots of phone calls and emails from back home, and Mike came through with two small presents, including that fabulous shirt that we had blogged about before (Curious Lady - Very Hundsome & Lovely Tough Girl) and a Godiva Chocolate Bar.

Ilena got to pinch hit for one of the teachers in Lauren's class today, and manned the pinwheel station, as part of their unit on wind and the weather. Her class is totally adorable!

Both Jacob and Lauren are now singing in Japanese, and Jacob is trying out words like "hajimimashite" (nice to meet you) and "arigato gozaimashita" (thank you very much).

Check this out! As we have blogged about periodically, Mike has been trying to learn more about Japanese baseball, and has been reading about the local teams, which include the Hanshin Tigers and Orix Buffaloes. As you may know, each team may only have a certain amount of foreign players, and many of the foreign players here are pretty big stars. So today, Ilena went down to CHIC to chat with some of the people there and to buy this month's Kansai Time Out Magazine (a monthly in English, which is awesome). While there, Ilena happened to meet the wife of Orix Buffaloes Third Baseman Greg LaRocca. They live nearby on Rokko Island. It turns out that they have a new baby and are keen on getting some nursing advice from Ilena. She was very sweet and told Ilena that we could join her to go to any game that we want and she could get us tickets! Needless to say, when Ilena told Mike and Jacob this at dinner, they were psyched! We would love to take in an Orix game or three, and may even have to reconsider our Japanese baseball allegiances and become Buffaloes fans!

(LaRocca had a brief playing career in the majors with the Indians and Padres, before heading to Japan. His first year here, he hit .328 with 40HR and drove in over 100 runs for the Hiroshima Carp. This will be his second year with the Buffaloes, who are his third Japanese team. Also of note, joining him on this year's Orix squad will be the now-veteran Tuffy Rhodes (who, after hitting 3 HR on opening day in 1994 against Dwight Gooden, and only 5 HR for the rest of the season, went on to become a monster power hitter in Japan)).

Finally, we leave you with a Japanese cultural tidbit of the day. Mike wanted to comment on this, because it is just striking and very different. Every time you get into an elevator here in Japan, one of your fellow passengers closes to the door works the door open/door close buttons (with gusto, as if it is their paid job). When the "operator" gets off, another passenger wordlessly replaces him or her. It's hard to describe why this is worth talking about, but its just very different!

Happy Birthday Ilena!!



February 27, 2008

Our Busy Week

It has been a busy week for the Kasdan Klan Asian contingent.

  • Ilena has had a whirlwind of activities that included a hiking trip in the mountains of Kansai on Monday (a trip organized through CHIC), accompanying Jacob's class on their class trip to the ice skating rink and science museum on Port Island on Tuesday (the Moms bailed on the science museum and went out for lunch instead), and attempting to manage Jacob's social life. Ilena's hike took her along an abandoned railway bed and through abandoned train tunnels. At times it was very Stand By Me (well, at least the walking along the railroad tracks part through tunnels and over bridges). But mostly, it was a beautiful walk through nature (including rivers and fresh fallen snow). Jacob's class was accompanied, not only by the parent volunteers, but by his "buddy class," the Fourth Graders. Jacob's buddy took very good care of him.
  • Jacob, growing by leaps and bounds, is staying busy with soccer, trips to the playground, and his best friend Jaewon, about whom random parents at the school have approached us to inquire if Jacob is really marrying her! Jacob's daily routine includes racing home on his bike (ahead of Ilena and Lauren), taking the elevator upstairs, letting himself in with his key, grabbing his soccer ball and watch, and heading back out to play ball in the park (passing the girls on his way back out).
  • Lauren prefers to stay in and work on cutting, coloring, Junior Boggle, and puzzles, all while singing. She is also a miniature home-maker, assisting Ilena with hanging laundry, setting the table, folding laundry, and cooking (all with a very sweet disposition). Sometimes she seems like 3 going on 33.
  • Mike is becoming a veteran of the Shinkansen, traveling to the Tokyo/Yokohama area for the third time in three weeks.
Random story. The other day, while working out at our local Rokko Island gym, Mike was spellbound by a petite Japanese woman doing a tai-chi like exercise with a full length sword! After finishing, she sheathed the sword, and did some similar exercises with a paper fan. Not something you see everyday at the gym back home, he thought as he finished his set of hammer curls!

In the food department, Ilena got to share an Italian meal with the moms, a true multi-cultural exchange, because many are from different countries (including Japan, Korea, U.S., India, and Brazil). Mike got to enjoy a Tuna Restaurant that served the many parts of the Tuna many many different ways. He also got to taste many varieties of Shochu, including the kind made from sugar cane and the kind made from sweet potato (both hot and ice cold).

February 24, 2008

The Rest of The Weekend

The remainder of our Weekend was both fun and interesting. We stayed local, and had a great time.

On Saturday night, we went to Canadian Academy for a really exciting concert. The event was put on by APAC, the Asia Pacific Activities Conference. The finest musicians from each of 6 international high schools (2 from Japan, 2 from China, 1 from Korea and 1 from the Philippines) joined together to make up one large concert band, about 100 strong. The night started with a professional Japanese Taiko Drumming performance, which was amazing. Though a little much for Lauren's tender ears, Jacob enjoyed every minute.

Feel free to check out this link to the APAC website, if you're curious to hear more of the music performed. The piece entitled Methusaleh II was quite remarkable, we thought. (Ilena was dying to get up there with her flute and piccolo and join in, but Mike held her back.)

Sunday morning was a very lazy one. We got to catch up with some family and friends on the phone and webcam, which is always great. After a late brunch, we headed out to Suma, a town just west of Kobe on the JR Train Line, and went to The Suma Aqualife Park. We had learned of Suma from the father of one of Lauren's classmates. It's not the kind of place you would find in tourbooks, but appeared to be a nice little spot. A beach town nestled right near the mountains. From talking to another gaijin we met in Mister Donut (who was living there and had a daughter Lauren's age) and glancing at the guide map we got at the train station, in addition to the Suma Aqualife Park, there is a nice botanical garden, some shrines, as well as the beach. Suma is now on our definite weekend list for when it gets warmer and we want to hit a nearby beach. (Nothing stunning, but its a beach, and as the woman we met - who was from Florida originally - noted, we're from New Jersey, so how high can our beach standards be? Its close - about a half hour by train.)

Today, at the Marine Park (i.e., aquarium), we got to see a great dolphin show, some adorable sea otters and penguins, and lots of other traditional aquarium gems. The dolphins did a great job of soaking those brave enough to sit near the front of the stands on this 40 degree day. Unlike in the States, however, the staff actually comes around with little plastic tarps and towels to cover you with and to dry you with off should you happen to get wet. Ah the niceties over here in Japan! We all had a really nice time. The Dolphins were a big hit, as were beautiful large Carp that Lauren got to pet, and a neat bunch of exhibits with Eels, Jellyfish, and many others.

Finally, in an unrelated note, meet Lauren's dolls newest friend:

(We have also purchased Jacob's Power Rangers a "bad guy" with whom to engage.)

By the way, we hear its the 2008 Academy Awards tonight in the U.S. After reviewing the nominees this year, we learned that we have no clue and have not seen any of the "important" movies of this year. Thinking that maybe we are just out of it, since we are parents and don't get to the movies often, we reviewed the past few years of nominees and winners. Apparently, its just this year. In past years, we had seen most if not all of the nominees. This year, not so much. So, loyal readers, what is worthwhile?? (And keep in mind that worthwhile is presently defined as worth the price of admission - in Japan - about $18-20/ticket + 3 hours of babysitting time. Otherwise, we'll wait for the DVD!)

February 23, 2008

Catching Up

We are all falling into nice routines here in Japan. After dropping the kids at school, Ilena usually has the time to head to the gym, do her StarFish work (still working on the Japan Tour!), and to catch up with people back home by phone or email. She also has stayed really involved in the kids classes, volunteering to come into school to help out in the classroom for certain special activities and class trips. Ilena has also signed up for some neat local activities, including a hiking trip this coming Monday and an Ikebana class (the Japanese art of flower arranging) starting in April. Mike has gotten into a nice groove at work, which is busy and extremely interesting. While he has yet to be successful in locating a pick-up basketball game (still looking and there is a possibility through the school...maybe), he tries to hit the gym in the evenings a few times a week.

Today, Jacob had his Yoga class and a special session of Soccer at the local Stadium. Here are some pictures:

The kids bike or scooter everywhere, hit the playgrounds, and are starting to have play-dates with kids from their class. Lauren got invited to a classmate's birthday party in early March.

Between their school and Ilena being around to devote so much time to the kids, both kids are positively exploding with growth and learning. Its quite amazing to watch. Lauren is sitting and doing 48 piece puzzles all by herself, coloring at Jacob's level, and singing long songs that she has learned in school. Jacob is mastering reading all sorts of words, learning complex (it seems!) math concepts like symmetry and fractions, and is able to explain many of the workings of the human body (like how the brain tells the muscles to move, what red and white blood cells do, etc.). Best of all, he daily plays soccer and frisbee with Japanese school kids at the park who are twice his age, who must regard him as somewhat of an entertaining novelty. Jacob and Lauren are also playing really nicely together.

The multi-culturalism of our experience has also been so interesting. Through Mike's job, he has encountered people from all over the world, and Jacob and Lauren's classes are like a mini-United Nations. On the food side, Jacob has now expressed a love of Furikake on his rice at dinner now. And before every meal, Jacob (when he remembers) makes us all say Itadakimasu (what Japanese people say before mealtime).

This Friday, we had a nice Shabbat dinner when Mike got home from work. He picked up a mini-Raisin Loaf and we lit Shabbat candles, said the blessings on the wine (juice), the pseudo-Challah (bread), and the blessings on the children. It was really nice.

One last interesting experience to share was that of buying tickets to the Hanshin Tigers baseball game in late March. As we previously discussed on our blog, Japanese convenience stores (konbini) are ubiquitous. It turns out that not only can you drop mail packages and pay utilities bills there, but you can also pay for and pick up baseball tickets at these stores. Mike purchased the tickets online (after a lengthy internet registration process that was made lengthier by the fact that it was written in and required entry of data in Japanese!), and Ilena went to our local Lawson's, which has an ATM-like machine that you can pick up the tickets from (of course also requiring some Japanese!). With the help of co-workers and the Lawson's clerk, we now have tickets in hand. The use of convenience stores as a national distribution platform is really smart.

(By the way, speaking of baseball and Japan, check out this prank that the Philadelphia Phillies played on one of their young pitchers; they told him he was traded to the Japanese league!)

February 20, 2008

Tree-Climbing and a Visit to the School Nurse

Jacob and his "girlfriend" Jaewon have been spending many an afternoon together. Yesterday while Lauren and Ilena were at the playground, the two J's went up to the field above the playground. After a few minutes, Ilena went to peek and caught them climbing trees. While Jacob is definitely a "monkey", we weren't sure about Jaewon. Ilena had to coax them down for fear of another child getting hurt under her watch. They weren't happy about it, but luckily hopscotch in the sand proved an almost equal substitute.

Speaking of climbing trees, upon return home from the gym, Ilena spotted maintenance people from the apartment building literally standing in the trees while pruning the branches and manicuring the trees. We just don't see that every day back home thanks to cherry pickers and extension ladders.

Today, Ilena got her first call from the school nurse. And it wasn't a call asking for nursing help. She was calling to report that Jacob wasn't "feeling well". When she went to school to pick him up, the nurse reported that Jacob apparently told her that he had a fever and received fever medicine this morning. What a tall tale that was. After a quick talking to and the realization that he wouldn't go to soccer if he came home from school, Jacob opted to head back to class. Sneaky boy. We think he was just trying to pull a fast one on us since he missed us.

With Mike away on business in Tokyo until Thursday night, it's been Ilena and the kids for the last couple of days. We've been spending quality time together, many an hour at the playground, and making our way through the hundreds of books we brought from home. Hopefully Mike is checking out the scene and taking notes for our upcoming trip to Tokyo during Golden Week, which falls at the beginning of May.

Lauren went on her first field trip today to a nearby Japanese preschool where the classes would play and eat lunch together before returning back to CA. Though she wasn't a huge fan of the curry rice that was served, she said that she had lots of fun. Jacob will be going on a class trip to an ice skating rink and Science Museum on Port Island next Tuesday. The kindergarten class will be joined by their fourth grade buddies for a fun-filled day of skating and science. Ilena will be accompanying the class as a chaperone - if only she could ice skate. She'll be making herself useful helping the kids put on and take off their ice skates and running them to the bathroom when needed.

Hope President's week back home is enjoyable for everyone! We're beginning to put our summer plans together and are looking forward to seeing everyone back home in June/July when we visit for a short time.

February 16, 2008

Kobe Harbor Cruise and Day At Kobe HarborLand/Mosaic

Another weekend has arrived. Today, after a leisurely breakfast (cheese and mushroom omelettes! The mushrooms here rock. And the eggs are yolkier), Jacob's yoga class, a trip to the playground for the kids, and a trip to the gym for Mike, we headed into Kobe and went to Mosaic, a shopping, food, and entertainment center in Kobe Bay that we had been to once before.

Some pictures from Rokko Island River Mall, before we left:

Mike and Ilena's conversation while watching Jacob and Lauren scooter themselves to the nearby playground:
Mike - "That's cute"
Ilena - "Um...I think they are throwing rocks at those pigeons"
Mike - "Well...it looked cute from a distance"

Today, the weather called for rain. So we took all four umbrellas that we own. Every other rainy day, we had been stuck without an umbrella. Not today! As it turned out, it was an absolutely gorgeous day. And we carried those damned umbrellas around with us all day.

When we got to Kobe, we had a great buffet lunch at a nice wide-open restaurant that overlooked Kobe Bay. Dessert included a chocolate fountain that we dipped marshmallows, cake, and cookies into! Buffets are few and far between in Japan. There was little effort and something for everyone. We all enjoyed!

After wandering around the shops, we headed out to the amusement area where the kids rode on a mechanized Panda, the flying elephant ride (Dumbo!), and visited their favorite arcade games. The arcades here are way cool and over-the-top, and they are designed for (and filled with) adults - not kids! The games included a taiko drumming game and tons of huge interactive screens and games. We had to pull Jacob away.

We were wandering around the harbor, checking out the boats and the view, when we decided to find out about the various harbor cruises and got a great deal on a perfect 45 minute trip on a nice-sized boat called the Fantasy. Great views of the Kobe Bay while the sun was setting, hardly any other passengers on board, and the super-nice crew invited us all into the bridge where they let us sit in the captain chair and use their binoculars. Upstairs we discovered cheesy captains hats (think Captain Stubing from the Love Boat) and a fake steering wheel that the kids played with as we returned. It was a perfect trip. And with Lauren and Jacob riding free, and some coupons we had, it cost a total of 1200 Yen!

On another note, here are a few pictures from Jacob and Lauren's school. They are both loving it. And their teachers are awesome about putting pictures and video up on the class websites so we can actually see what they are doing at school. (6 and 3 year-olds are not the most forthcoming...i.e., "What did you do today?" "Nothing. I don't remember."). Jacob is really progressing with his reading and math - he can identify cones, spheres, cylinders, and rectangular prisms.

We leave you with this terrific t-shirt, which we are kicking ourselves for not just buying for Ilena! It reads: "Curious Lady Love You. She Is Very Hundsome and Lovely Tough Girl."

February 15, 2008

Friday Night Dinner and Unidentified Pickled Food

On Friday night, Mike went out to a terrific yakiniku place with some co-workers. Great food. Great company. And at the restaurant, they have these sliding curtains that surround your table, making each table feel like its own room. The outside tables have windows that look out into tiny little zen gardens. It was very cool. Unfortunately, on his way home Mike had his first negative food experience in Japan. Stopping into a convenience store to pick up what he thought was a sweet gummy candy, he took one bite and it turned out to be something akin to a picked apple. Or something equally nasty. Oh well.

In other news, Ilena took her first aerobics class in Japanese, and survived!

Pink Pancakes and Black Pasta

After Jacob's attempted sleepover the other night, we realized that we're not quite ready for him to have sleepovers. We really missed him and it was very strange (though remarkably quiet) seeing his empty bed. Picking him up at 9:30 was just fine by us.

After school Wednesday, Jacob again headed to soccer class. Once we managed to get the info sheets from his coaches translated, we learned that his coaches are some very skilled soccer players. They both formerly played with some of the best teams in Japan. One of them even played in Brazil. So go Jacob! Dribble away! GOAL!!!!

As we had discussed before, Valentine's Day in Japan is a little different than back home. Here the women buy "obligatory chocolate" for the men. Then on March 14th, it's payback time and the men buy for the women. Mike scored some nice truffles at work from some of his co-worker's and brought them home to share with the family.

In addition, Jacob started his morning at school with a pink pancake breakfast. Ilena went in to help out and joined lots of other parents to make hundreds of pancakes for some very hungry kindergarten kids and their fourth grade buddy classes. Jacob repeatedly announced, "my mom makes the best pancakes in the world". Amazing what you can do with a powder mix and some pink food coloring all supplied by the school. There was no stopping Jacob and his pancakes - he ate every fourth grader under the table and consumed no less than 6 or 7 pancakes with a big grin on his face after every one.

Jacob and Lauren, all decked out in their Valentine red, both came home from school with all sorts of goodies given to them by their teachers and fellow students. These kids sure have received a lot of love considering they've only been in school for 3 weeks.

After school, it was scooter time. We ventured out to the playground and went up and down the countless ramps (over and over and over again). It's the simple things in life that we all take for granted, really! Lauren was ready to go home and warm up, but Jacob wasn't. So he came home, got his bike and headed out to a different playground all by himself. He rides around with a new-found confidence while wearing his watch to keep track of time and always seems to return home right on time. We had a few tough "listening days" last week, but he's been an angel this week. We had the cutest little Valentine kids in Asia by far!

Another surprise this week was the mail. Not for Ilena or Mike, but for Jacob. On Tuesday, he received a big envelope from Beth El Preschool (where he did Kinder-Enrichment) with pictures, notes and Valentines from all his little friends back home. His face lit up with every one he opened. If that wasn't enough, on Thursday another big envelope came for Jacob. This time it was from The Clinton School K-Kids and Ms. Cosmas, the crew from Jacob's public school back in Maplewood. He was so excited to receive special mail and Valentines - and they arrived exactly on Valentine's Day. The class even included a couple of special notes and Valentines for Lauren which put a big smile on her sweet face.

We decided to go out to our favorite little pseudo-Italian restaurant for a family dinner. Ilena and the kids met up with Mike near the train station and headed to eat. Continuing our day of colorful foods, Lauren decided that she wanted the squid-ink pasta (she picked it from the menu, though we didn't tell her what it was). Her black lips and tongue were a delight to watch as she gobbled up her dinner.

Mike and Ilena have been taking full advantage of the great gym just a few minutes from the apartment. While they are really enjoying every minute of the swimming and exercising, they definitely miss a few things from home. The first is their trainer - we tried to convince him to come with us to Japan, but were unsuccessful. The second is their protein shakes - it became part of the family routine almost every morning to have protein smoothies (which the kids loved too). Since we can't get the protein powder here, we've discovered a way to improvise and have started adding tofu to our smoothies. It really works - tastes great and seems to fool the kids.

One last note, we finally figured out how to download our favorite show Lost and have now been catching up on the beginning of the 4th season. It is awesome so far. We thought we would either have to read along on this great Lost blog (but reading it is not the same), get someone to burn and send us DVDs, or (gasp!) wait until we come back to the U.S. Now, thanks to $1.99 downloads from iTunes, we can watch it here.

That's all for now - more on the weekend!

February 12, 2008

US Politics, Japan Style

Check out this cute local interest story about how the town of Obama, Japan is pulling for Barack Obama. Random! (Don't worry, we get CNN over here, so we're keeping up on things!)

In more local news, Ilena got to play her flute today with Hana (the mom of Jacob's friend Jae Won). Hana is a terrific piano player, and has a piano in her nearby apartment. Ilena and Hana are planning on playing a series of duets for Jacob's class at school some time. (They are taking requests from all blog readers...)

Jacob almost had his first real sleep-over at Jae Won's house today, but he decided he missed us, so we picked him (and his sleeping bag, and scooter, and back-pack) up and took him home.

Both Lauren and Jacob have been coloring up a storm, and our apartment walls are covered with their colorings!

Here are some left-over pictures from the past weekends to spice up this otherwise mundane post!

February 11, 2008

Trip To Kyoto

Today was the "bonus" third day of our long weekend. So we decided to get up early, hit the railway and head out to Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan. It was about a one hour train ride out to the ultra-modern Kyoto Station. It was funny walking around this extremely contemporary train station knowing that we were about to spend the day touring temples dating back over 800 years.

While riding the train, Mike and Ilena got a kick out of listening to Jacob and Lauren. They were acting like real locals, very comfortable with the train lingo and even reciting the overhead train announcements in Japanese. (Jacob: "We're not changing at Uozaki for the Hanshin Line. We're going to Sumiyoshi to change to the JR Line.") Most of the "real locals" get quite a kick out of out kids too. Not only are they the loudest children in Japan, but we hear at least 100 times a day that they are "kawaii" - cute. Seldom does a blond or blue-eyed child walk these streets. One woman on the bus in Kyoto was literally petting Lauren and holding her ponytail in awe. Lauren said to us later in the day, "Everybody giggles when they see me, I'm such a laughy girl." Hope they both don't get a complex or let it go to their heads!

Once we arrived in Kyoto, we went to the Tourist Information Center which was hidden on the 9th floor of the Kyoto Station Shopping Mall. We were lucky to find it as it was invaluable and really helped us to plan our day. We bought one day bus passes (as buses rule the roads in the sprawling city), which also proved to be very wise purchases. Even the buses run like clockwork here. We can't understand how!

We first traveled by bus to Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion, which was built back in the 1200s, and is absolutely stunning lacquered in gold-leaf. It was quite a zen experience walking around the grounds of this gorgeous temple surrounded by ponds with running waterfalls, bamboo trees, large-mouthed fish and local workers hand pruning the shrubbery in their traditional attire. Jacob and Lauren loved the Golden "Castle," as well as walking the grounds.

From here, we hopped on another bus and headed to the Eastern side of Kyoto to Ginkaku-ji, the Silver Pavilion. On the outskirts of the city, up against the mountains, sits a quaint little alley-way hill that winds its way up to the temple grounds. We enjoyed some ice cream to keep the kids happy, and wandered on. (Unfortunately, Lauren had a mini-breakdown when we learned that the brown ice cream we thought may be chocolate was actually "roast tea" flavored. But we persevered.) Originally intended to be lacquered in silver, the plan changed and this breathtaking temple is constructed out of wood, and is set into a beautiful bamboo forest and surrounded by peaceful moss-covered gardens. We were able to walk up the mountain behind the temple and catch a great view of the city of Kyoto from above. After walking through the beautiful grounds of Ginkaku-ji, we felt remarkably fresh and at peace (and this, despite the fact that we had spent the day with Jacob and Lauren, who were growing more tired as the day went on - there was a lot of "Mommy and Daddy carry me!" going on). Amazing.

After we were done at Ginkaku-ji and had enjoyed some other Japanese street treats (Kumamochi - sweet rice balls on a stick and Kotoimo (we think!)- sweet potato wrapped in sesame, served warm), we took a stroll down Philosopher's Walk. This narrow street lined with cherry blossom trees (yet to bloom), lots of local souvenir shops and great eats, took us along a canal as we made our way back down next to the mountain. It definitely had a somewhat European feel to it (but also a completely non-European feel to it). The aroma was just plain ridiculous as one of the Kyoto specialties are these little crisp cinnamon cookies which are being baked on every corner. With all the cherry blossoms, in about a month, it is sure to be stunning. We will definitely be coming back.

We finished our day back at Kyoto Station at a great Ramen noodle place for dinner. Did you know that Ramen is the Japanese-ification of Lo Mein. So funny. Everyone loved dinner, and Jacob and Lauren (and Mike and Ilena) loved riding the 10 story escalators all the way up to the restaurant, where we caught some great night views before heading back home to Rokko Island.

February 10, 2008

Three Day Weekend, Two Days In

Saturday morning began with a chocolate-chip pancake breakfast at home. It's so nice to have our Bisquick and Maple Syrup. Saturday was also noteworthy because it actually snowed. Some people that have lived here for 2-3 years, told us it was the first real snow here since they have arrived.

On Saturday night we attended a social event put on by Community House and Information Center (CHIC) at the Kobe Club in the Kitano area of Kobe City. To get to the Kobe Club, you take a train to Sannomiya Station, hope into a taxi, and tell the driver to take you to the "Gaijin Club."

The event that we attended (sans children) was called Cocktails and Carpets: dinner, drinks, and a Persian rug auction! We were just going to be social, get out and meet some people. And...we walked out with our first Japanese souvenir; a Persian Rug! Go figure. It was actually a lot of fun. And we were definitely on the younger (and poorer) end of the spectrum of those in attendance. Let's just say there was a lot of money flying around that room that night. We met a lot of nice ex-pats who had lived here for varying amounts of time, working at the Japanese offices of companies like P&G, Caterpillar, and Nestle. (Of note, it seems that once people start traveling for work, they never stop. Nine out of ten ex-pats we meet are on their fourth and fifth different abroad assignment!)

On Sunday, we took the JR train into Sannomiya, Kobe.

We first went to the Tokyu Hands store (a Japanese combination of Target, Bed Beth and Beyond, and Home Depot, but a lot pricier!). After weeks of searching we finally found a "taberucoroso" (aka a tablecloth) there. (Ah, the little things!).

Afterwards, we visited the nearby Ikuta Shrine, which was both lovely and peaceful. We witnessed a ceremony there, which involved bowing, clapping, and ringing a giant bell.

Next, we strolled through a perfect little garden behind the shrine, which had a small brook and waterfall, and places to sit and enjoy the surroundings

For lunch we hit the Daimaru Department Store. Daimaru is one of the bigger department stores in Japan. Shopping in Japan, and in these mammoth stores is indescribable. They make even the New York Macy's and Bloomingdale's look tiny. We bought our lunch on the bottom floor, which in all of these department stores is always filled with tens and tens of counters selling all sorts of different foods and sweets items. Free samples everywhere. And each person manning each counter is shouting "irashaimase - dozo!" at you to welcome you to the store. On our way back to the train station, the kids spent some time with the dogs of an adorable little pet store.

Back on Rokko Island, we saw a great rainbow.

In the afternoon, we all went to the family swim at our gym. They open up the pool to kids at our gym on Sunday afternoons. And our bathing suits just arrived with our sea shipment. It was so nice to just hang out and splash around together. And the kids looked super-adorable in their (mandatory) swim caps! We even tried out the hot tub there, as a test to see if the kids would like a Japanese Onsen (hot spring tubs that are everywhere). They seemed down with it!

Tomorrow is a holiday in Japan, so the kids are off from school and Mike is off from work. Our plan is to head to Kyoto for the first time and see how much Jacob and Lauren will let us explore!

Finally, here is a t-shirt we saw while shopping on Rokko Island on Saturday: Will Perdue Basketball Camp!?