January 31, 2009

Our Latest Dinner Out in Sannomiya

Last Saturday night we continued our weekly forays into Sannomiya for dinner. This time, on a drizzly Saturday evening, we were in the mood for yakitori and ate at Tori Tetsu Yakitori restaurant. Its a basic chain yakitori place. But very good. We thoroughly enjoyed it. We sat at the bar, near the grills. Ate a whole bunch of grilled chicken and grilled veggies on sticks. And washed it down with a nice nama (draft) biru (beer!). (It is almost as if beer was designed specifically to accompany yakitori; they go so well together).

We highly (highly!) recommend the Tori Tetsu house special rice ball, on top of nori, with scallions, a spicey mayo, and topped with teriyaki chicken. Off-the-charts goodness.

After our return from Sapporo, we have our eye on some sushi places right near Sannomiya station and a nearby Belgian Beer bar. The array of restaurants and bars crammed into the Sannomiya area is literally endless. We will try what we can!

Kids Update

Time for a little catch-up time on Jacob and Lauren.

We really enjoyed Jacob's First Grade Concert at Canadian Academy. It was adorable, with all of the kids dressed in their international garb, and truly multi-cultural with songs in English, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish. Here is a clip from the finale:

We recently completed our first family-reading chapter book, Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We read it together in the mornings and evenings, and worked to do a short chapter-by-chapter summary of it too. Everyone enjoyed it immensely, and we celebrated by having a chocolate party, including a Willy Wonka Chocolate Bar, that we shared while watching the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie. (Unfortunately, we couldn't get our hands on the original, so we had to settle for the more recent re-make.)

Jacob is extremely close to losing his first tooth, and looks to have several others on the way out too.

Lauren is working on riding without training wheels, but her giggling with joy is getting in the way! We continue to work on it! She continues to create incredible unique works of art and to enjoy ballet and science club, and is really into kites lately.

We leave this post, with another video of the kids' waiting-for-the-train dance. Enjoy:


We came across this very funny website called Japander.com. The site is dedicated to posting videos of Japanese commercials done by Western actors and actresses, who shill for all sorts of products here. (This phenomenon is captured beautifully in Billy Murray's character in "Lost in Translation.")

If you are a fan of "24," you have to check out the Kiefer Sutherland "Train Detective" spot for Calorie Mate. (Calorie Mate, like Soy Joy, is a Japanese energy bar; both taste awful!).

January 25, 2009

The Kobe "Marathon"

On Sunday, Ilena and Mike ran in the not quite-accurately-titled "Kobe Marathon," which offers a 5K and 10K course (as well as a parent/child 1.3K course) on Rokko Island. Mike and Ilena (or rather "Ikna" as her tag stated) did the 5K, and Mike did the 1.3K with Jacob.

Despite being the best runner in the family (she blew Jacob's doors off in our pre-race "training sessions"), Lauren was too young to enter, so she watched from the side-lines this time. She didn't seem to mind.

The morning started with a very brief snow-storm, so it was cold, but as the day went on the weather became a little better for a run. The pre-race included a huge group warm-up and stretching exercise - very Japanese! Mike and Ilena both finished with respective (to us!) times under 30 minutes. Jacob complained the whole time, but finished, and then got a certificate. So a good time was had by all!

More Funny Signage - Harborland Shopping

We headed down to Harborland in Kobe on Saturday to stroll around, look at the shops, and have lunch out. (If you are ever in the Kobe area with a serious meat craving, we highly recommend Braziliano, a churrascoria (Brazilian BBQ) at Harborland where you get unlimited meats, as well as delicious grilled pineapple, sliced off huge skewers by the fun-loving tri-lingual staff.)

Lauren is quite the little shopper, browsing and trying on like a much older soul.

We also caught the hot-off-the-press Obama bobble-head dolls:

In the continuing spirit of funny/confusing/strangely worded English signage, we present these two:

January 24, 2009

Our Next Trip...Sapporo

We are getting excited for our next trip, which will be in early February, to Japan's northern-most island, Hokkaido. Hokkaido is well-known for its ruggedness, winter skiing, and national parks (like Akan and Daisetsuzan). Its biggest city is Sapporo, as in Sapporo beer.

Since we are only going for a three-day weekend, our trip will focus on Sapporo. During the time we will be there, the Sapporo Snow Festival will be going on. So we will be checking out all those monsterous ice sculptures and slides.

We'll have to bundle up, but we are super-excited!

January 23, 2009

Old West Randomness

Lately we have been realizing (having now lived in Japan for over a year) that a lot of the funny, quirky things that were so strikingly different to us when we first moved here have simply become an accepted part of everyday life.

Guess that is a natural thing that happens, as you acclimate. (Oh don't worry though! Of course there are many things that will always be strange and odd and funny. So have no fear.)

One of the things that will always strike me as funny is this unusual little store right here on Rokko Island called The Old Santa Fe Trail. Funny enough, it was one of the first stores I ever visited in Japan, when I was here checking out Rokko Island and Canadian Academy the July before we moved. What a totally random place. I have never seen any customer go in or even near this store. And the hodge-podge of outdoorsy and cowboy western type stuff is simply bizarre. I was reminded off this store when I passed by a similar very-out-of-place store selling cowboy western goods near work, a funny western shop, if you will. Aptly named too:

(Only later did I find out that "Funny" is actually a famous brand of Western accessories!)

I also always love the classic "Every Life Every Fun" slogan of another convenience store in the same building. So uplifting!

January 22, 2009

The Ex-Pat Costco Run

As we may have written before, Rokko Island, where we live is a pretty ex-pat friendly place. There are several stores on the island, like FBC and Price Club (as well as nearby Kitano institution Kobe Grocers), that cater to foreigners. There (at jacked up prices) you can get the food items, book, magazines, etc. that you just can't live without. Those little tastes of home that you sometimes crave. (Of late, they have even renovated the Gourmet City, the nearby Japanese grocery store, which now offers many more international items.)

But the daddy of 'em all is the all-American Costco (in Amagasaki). We have actually only been a few times. We don't have the car you really need to go there. And we rarely feel the need. But what's funny is that there is a definite list of Costco "staple" items that always seem to be on our list when we do go. (And by "we," we mean Ilena; Mike has never gotten to go. Going on weekends is suicidal.)

Anyway, these are the kinds of things that usually make our list - the things we really miss that we can't resist at CostCo: a Costco Pizza (of course!), giant bag of Frozen strawberries, giant carton of red grapes, maple syrup, Craisins, Oatmeal, Cereal, Bisquick, and Costco giant salads. Kind of a funny list. But there you go. Ever wonder what would be on your own list?

January 19, 2009

Exploring The Restaurants of Sannomiya

On Saturday night, Mike and Ilena decided to begin to execute their culinary plan of wandering around the absolutely-crammed-with-bars-and-restaurants parts of Sannomiya and choosing a different restaurant each week. This time, we chose a tiny Korean restaurant a block over from Higashimon Street. (We started simple - it had a picture menu, and we could read and understand a lot of the menu items, since they were written in katakana. As this project goes on, and we pick places without picture menus and/or menus written in kanji, this will become more difficult!).

This place was like eating in someone's living room. The restaurant had four tables, and was run by a Korean family - the wife was the waitress, the husband was the cook, and the grandmother was staff. (She peeled the biggest bowl of garlic we had ever seen at the table next to us.) The wife and grandmother were watching this ridiculous Korean soap-opera on a flat screen next to the kitchen. We were the only people in the restaurant.

The food was really authentic and very good. (Having been to Seoul, we can actually now comment on the authenticity with a little bit of authority!) We had a warming meal that included bi-bim-ba served in a stoneware bowl and an excellent Korean pancake (chijimi).

A successful start. (And we spotted some promising candidates for next Saturday night!)

January 17, 2009

Working for the Weekend

Apologies for a slow start to the year blogging. We just got back a week and a bit ago, and between the remnants of jet-lag and the (seemingly traditional) post-New Year Holiday crush of work, there just hasn't been much time!

Speak of work, we wanted to take this occasion to tell you about a great little book about Japanese Salaryman. The Salaryman (aka "Sarariman"), is a Japanese cultural archetype that classifies the working class middle manager-type company man.

Check out the book here. (See the comments to get a flavor for it.) A friend of ours loaned it to us, and it is both hilarious and dead-on accurate. Highly recommended cultural reading!

January 11, 2009

Kagura Teppanyaki

On Saturday night, we went out with our friends Pat and Tracy to celebrate his birthday. We went to Kagura, a teppanyaki place in Sannomiya that Ilena had been to before. We had a terrific dinner, and at the end they broke out these ridiculous hats for us to wear for a birthday photo. (Apparently, its a tradition. But we are not sure, so we are posting the picture here to preempt any future blackmail attempts!)

FYI, Ilena is wearing the onigiri hat.

Monday is Coming of Age Day in Japan. (The key age in Japan being 20 - for voting, drinking, etc.) So we are enjoying a relaxing three-day weekend here. While Mike is off from work, our kids, being in international school, have school on Monday. This makes Monday a Truly Terrific Holiday.

January 7, 2009

And...We're Back!

Happy 2009 to you all. Exactly one year after first arriving in Japan, we returned to Japan from our winter holiday back in the USA. There are jet-lagged kids. Asleep. There is a jet-lagged Ilena. Asleep. And then there is Mike, writing this blog entry. (Fighting it off for a little while.)

It was a wonderful two-plus week trip home. As much as we are enjoying our time out here, it is always such a nice feeling to be home. Some brief highlights of our trip --

  • We saw lots of family! We stayed with Mike's family, and also spent time in South Jersey with Ilena's family.
  • We watched football (live) with friends! Our first Sunday back was spent in Brooklyn with friends and NFL Sunday Ticket. Nirvana!
  • We shopped. A good amount. Target. (Japan seriously needs a Target!) Costco. Dick's Sporting Goods.
  • We ate many (many) meals in Diners. We had no choice. Mike's parents are renovating and they have no kitchen. The Royal Cliffs and Red Oak Diner were our home away from home . . . away from home.
  • We visited lots of friends back in Maplewood.
  • We went to a terrific family Chanukah party.
  • We hit the Jewish Christmas tri-fecta by bowling, going to the movies, AND hitting a Chinese restaurant, all on December 25th.
  • We didn't eat one grain of rice the whole time!
  • We went to a salsa club for Mike's sisters birthday, and attempted the salsa, merengue, and batchata (though we can't do it like this -- yet). Mike, and his brother Dave and sister Lisa also did that dance move that Ben Stiller did in Along Came Polly.
  • We shoveled snow, roasted marshmallows, raced remote control cars, played Taboo!, went ice skating, pulled each other around in sleds, made an outdoor fire in the fire pit, and cleared an ice rink on the lake at Mike's parents' lake-house in the catskills, where we spent a terrificly relaxing New Year's.

Now, back in Japan, its back to work for Mike and back to school next week for the kids. We are refreshed and looking forward to our final six months in Japan.