February 3, 2008

CA Concert, Our First Company, Kobe, Nara and Setsubun

It's been a few days since our last post, so brace yourselves. It's now Sunday evening. We just put the kids down for the night, and we are mentally preparing for tomorrow morning's Super Bowl. (GO Giants!!)

It's been a terrific few days. The kids made it through their first week of school completely unscathed and ready to go back for week number two. We had an added bonus at the end of the day Friday when we returned to school for a 6 PM concert put on by the 2 Kindergarten B Classes and the 3 First Grade classes. Seeing Jacob up on stage with all his new "buddies" and the happiest proudest smile in the world just made our week! The best way to describe what we saw up on stage is that it was like walking into "It's A Small World" at Disney. Adorable 5-6 year old kids singing songs from all over the world while wearing their native country attire. This international school is comprised of children from a multitude of countries including the US, UK, Belgium, France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Japan, China, Korea and India (to name a few). We were entertained in French, Japanese, Spanish, English and Swahili while our eyes were wowed by some of the most beautiful kimonos, saris, and other festive attire worn by the kids. It was a really special event and seeing Jacob so proud made us all feel really great!

After a good night's sleep on Friday (much needed after the long week), our friends Bob (a law-school friend of Mike's) and Maho from Tokyo arrived for a visit. We always have a great time when we get together. Consistent with Japanese tradition, they came bearing beautiful gifts for the entire family: handmade bamboo cups, chopstick (hashi) rests in the shape of crabs (also bamboo), and the coolest little bamboo dragonflies which are designed to balance atop anything on the point of their heads. It's truly amazing what these Japanese artisans can do with Bamboo and the amount of detail that goes into everything. They also got us a terrific Hiragana book to help us learn (someone's been reading the blog!).

After a full American-style brunch at our place (they brought bagels from Tokyo!), we headed out to Sannomiya, Kobe where we met up with Koomi, a friend of Maho's, who lives in Osaka and came to spend the day with us. We met in the basement of the Sogo Department store. The basement of any of these huge Japanese Depato's is a sight to behold and its hard to believe. There is an incredible range of prepared foods and delicacies that seems to go on for ever. With free samples!! The highlight of the day was roaming around the Chinatown, near Motomachi Station. Amazing sights (Jacob was fascinated by the "preparation" of fresh caught fish for mealtime!) and smells (we had a delicious dim sum lunch, followed by super-yummy nikuman) . Along the way, Bob, Maho, and Koomi were awesome guides, since they speak the language, and were answering all of our many questions. It was so nice to wander around, go into stores, restaurants, and not have to even think about how to get by with the language. But we are trying and we are enjoying learning. At one point at lunch, Ilena -- in perfect Japanese -- asked the waitress where the bathroom was (Toire wa doku desu-ka?). She just got a blank stare. Her confidence shaken, she turned to Bob and said "Did I say it wrong?" Bob smiled and wryly responded - "She's Chinese." Ilena gets points for trying!

Saturday was (again) like two days for us. Since we got a babysitter, we again met Bob, Maho, and Koomi out in Kobe and went pub-hopping. The first place we went was a tiny tachinomi (a standing bar) nestled in a narrow alley underneath Motomachi station. (It seems the best places are the tiny bars and restaurant that pepper the little alleys surrounding the big train stations). We had some draft beers and some little bar snacks and met a very interesting Japanese man named "Jonathan," a local radio DJ who was intent on socializing with us gaijin via his cell phone translator (yes - our cell phones have english to japanese dictionaries too, but we have to improve our reading before they are usable!).

On this raw rainy night, we then headed to a nearby yakitori/izakaya (pub) for an absolutely delicious meal, including naba (a warming hot-pot stew that continues to cook at your table), yakitori (chicken in various forms on a stick), and other interesting delicacies like chicken cartilage (not bad actually!). Again it was nice to be in the capable hands of experts! (Bob, Maho, and Koomi even taught us how to ask a waiter to select foods for you within a certain budget, by telling him a price and saying "I'm in your hands" in Japanese ("omakase"). This will surely come in handy the next time we are confronted with an all-Kanji menu!)

Sunday was Setsubun, a celebration of the change of season. It is traditional to ward off evil demons (oni) and bring in luck, through the bean throwing ritual. It is also traditional to dine on uncut maki rolls (maki zushi) while facing the yearly designated direction (this year its south-east, apparently). We decided to celebrate by spending the day (another cold and raw one, unfortunately!) in Nara, one of the ancient capitals of Japan. Nara is famous for its white-tailed deer, which roam free, and are very comfortable around people (even, a little too comfortable). It is also home to the famous Todaiji temple, which houses the largest Buddha in Japan. We also visited Kohfukuji Temple. Both temples (dating back to the 7th Century) are massive and incredible structures, and the Great Buddha, as well as the other Buddha statutes within Todaiji are quite an awe-inspiring sight. We will have to visit Nara again in the Spring when its not cold and rainy. Its a little less than an hour and a half from where we live; a perfect day or weekend trip.

The kids were fascinated by the deer, especially Lauren. Jacob was a bit afraid of them. And, as it turns, this fear was not all unfounded. We thought it would be a good idea to buy these crackers that you can feed to the deer. Lauren wanted to feed them. But once you get in line to buy them, the deer swarm to you. Next thing we know, they are nipping at Mike's backside and jacket. Until Mike quickly unloaded the crackers (and with some small yelps of his own), the herd surrounded him and nipped away. These deer were no Bambi!

We completed our journey to Nara by snacking on delicious, hot-off the griddle manju - oishi!!

All in all, we had a terrific weekend. If you come visit us, we can take you to Nara so some deer can nibble on your backside before you view the Great Buddha of Nara. Sound good?

PS - If you're reading our blog, drop us a comment so we know you are out there!


Melissa said...

What is it with Ilena asking Chinese people for things? First the Raha's rehearsal dinner, now asking questions in Japanese to someone who's Chinese? Poor Ilena.

Missed you at the NPL dinner last night - everyone ate so much that we were all sober!

Super Bowl starts in just 2 hours! Go Giants!

jmgesq said...

Ok...so you're eating your way across Japan! Actually the food sounds fantastic and so do the sights. Deer included.

I'm glad the kids are so comfortable at the school. It makes it all that much better. And having friends and meeting new people...what more can you ask.

We saw Heather and David today. Har to believe, I'm sure, but it was a totally non-Japanese experience! ;-) We did shabbos candlesticks and tallis and kippot for the wedding in Midwood. A nice time was had by all. Now for the GAME!

It's safe to call you I think when the game is over...right ;-) I'm installing a special Japan clock in my office!

Love ya.


J & S said...

The school performance sounds wonderful, looking forward to seeing the production, if possible. Sounds like you maxed out your weekend time and even extended it into 'superbowl' time, Mike. Go Giants! Can't believe you got Jacob to go to school even though the game of games was on tv. Nice to see all your smiling faces, keep the pics coming along with the stories. We really enjoy all of it! J&S

The Ricketts Family said...

Lee and I are reading the blog!! We love it... and check it every day. :) Keep up the good work and watch out for those deer. :)


Gabriel said...

We looked at all the pics and Ariella was upset with any picture that was sans Lauren. ("Where is Lauren?" she would ask over and over and then would be very happy when we found one) More pics of Lauren please!

She saw the pic of Ilena and friends with beer..."What are they drinking, mommy?"

Loved the picture of Jacob at performance, so wonderful!

-Michelle and family

Matthew J said...

I can't wait to see some of these places with you guys in March. So much to see and do! I'm game for a few day trips...Keep the great pictures and stories coming. I enjoyed the picture of jacob's class. What a great experience for him! Have you guys discovered any Japanese music or arts that really interest you? One more thing after reading the post mentioning bamboo...definitely some souvenirs to be had there! Miss you guys!