June 24, 2009

Away We Go Redux - Leaving Japan

Well we kicked off this blog over a year and half ago with this pithy post. It has been QUITE the journey for all of us since then.

We are now down to our last week in Japan. Ilena and the kids are running around visiting with friends and saying goodbyes. We've been keeping it local lately, as we ease to the finish. With the kids off from school, it has been days at the River Mall and day trips to Suma Rikyu Koen, Reso Water Park, the Oji Zoo, a local bowling alley and Maiko Beach.

Mike is winding down work. And over the past weeks there have been some nice going out farewell "drinking parties" with work colleagues and dinners out with good friends (though not blogged about to protect the innocent!). We have been enjoying our wind down.

But with all the upcoming mundanities (is that a word?) - closing of bank accounts, paying of final bills, movers, packers, etc., this may be our last entry made from Japan.

We suppose we are about to find out what this repatriation thing is all about. (Though we are taking it easy on ourselves by stopping over in Hawaii on the way home. You know, in order to ease the transition.)

The future of The Kasdan Family Blog remains unclear. (Thus far it knows no subject other than our Japan experience!). We are still hopeful that we will continue to update it; though probably not as often as we have while being abroad. OK - yeah - there will probably be some Hawaii posts in the near future!! At any rate, thanks for reading to those of you out there reading along! Now we just need figure out how to turn this thing into book form, so we can use it to look back at our year and a half adventure in Japan . . .

June 17, 2009

You Know You've Been In Japan Too Long When...

You crave rice. With furikake.

Eating sushi rolls for lunch from the equivalent of a 7-11 convenience store doesn't seem strange or problematic in any way.

You bow ever-so-slightly when greeting people.

You find yourself constantly interjecting confirmatory gutturals like "un," "umn," "eh," or "so-so-so" into conversations.

You prefer using hashi (chopsticks) to any other eating utensil, even for western food.

You call chopsticks o-hashi.

It doesn't make you beam with pride to be able to read and understand simple katakanized English like "ハリ パタ," which is "HA-RI PA-TA" (or "Harry Potter").

You tend to naturally "work the elevator" by pressing the door close and door open buttons on every floor.

Using your number 3 hitter to bunt a guy over from first base in order to get him into scoring position with less than two outs seems like good strategy. . . in the 2nd inning of a scoreless game.

(The above is all in the spirit of humor, and there must be so many more. This is just what popped into mind right now.)

June 16, 2009

Sayonaras - Reflecting on Friends

With our remaining time in Japan down to about two weeks, we have been thinking a lot lately about how lucky and grateful we are for the many tight friendships we have made while in Japan. In fact, this may well have been the most unexpected part of our Japan experience.

There are few times, especially in grown-up life, when you come into a new world, have the opportunity to meet a lot of people who know nothing about you very quickly, and by virtue of personalities and the opportunity presented by the circumstances, you form very quick and very tight bonds. That social experience is one of the reasons that the college experience is so great. (Ha. Rokko Island is like the Freshman year of College, except everyone has two kids!!)

Despite our new friends being spread all 'round the world, we know we will stay in touch with people and sincerely look forward to visitors to NJ/NY!

O-Sushi Kudasai Mr. Roboto

Ah, the International Food Machinery and Technology Exhibition (FOOMA?! Just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?) is currently going on in Tokyo.

Check out this robot, which can cook and serve okonomiyaki.

And of course, what kitchen would be complete without this sushi-making robot ? (with eerily too-life-like hand!)

Speechless . . .

June 11, 2009

The Kids

With the school-year almost in the books, our time in Japan winding down, and the Sayonara books and lunches piling in, we wanted to take a brief moment to reflect on Jacob and Lauren.

This was just an incredible year of growth for both of them.
  • Both kids learned to read this year. Jacob (more into the Math/Science stuff it seems) made huge progress, and (although he still fights it sometimes), he can curl up with a nice chapter book in his room in the evenings. Lauren is right behind him, and brought home and completed nearly 50 little readers. She is such a diligent detail oriented little learner; we can hardly believe the things that she grasps.

  • Jacob (he of the most genuine accent in the family, by far) loved Japanese. We even found him teaching Lauren some Hiragana one day!

  • Lauren became an extremely knowledgeable and dedicated gardener and lover of nature. She loves to plant, and her classes lovingly tended garden of beans, tomatoes, radishes, and sun-flowers was a beautiful thing to behold. Fearless about animals and interested in all the little things around her that most of us don't even notice, we often find Lauren stopping to smell a flower, pick up a "roly poly" bug, or collect an interesting looking leaf. She loves to sing and has great dancing rhythm, and is absolutely calming to watch play. She is just so confident and comfortable with herself. And today, on the last day of school, she surprised us all by finally learning to ride a bike without training wheels!

  • Jacob, the ultimate gym rat, became a beast of a soccer player, looking forward to and talking smack about the daily First Graders vs. Second Graders recess soccer game. (According to Jacob (!?) the First Graders won this game each time by some ridiculous score. Yup he can lie to your face and (often) make you believe it, like his Uncle Dave. Like the time he told us that the winner of the First Grade Spelling Bee would get a celebratory bucket of Gatorade dumped on them!).

  • Both kids were blessed to have many tight friendships. And both of their classes at school were amazing - great teachers and great kids, with warm friendly and involved parents.
One of the best things about CA has been the Primary Years Program (PYP) "Learner Profile" attributes that both students have endeavored to follow day-to-day in school and in life: (i) Caring; (ii) Principled; (iii) Knowledgeable; (iv) Thinker; (v) Balanced; (vi) Communicator; (vii) Inquirer; (viii) Open-Minder; (ix) Risk-Taker; and (x) Reflective. What is incredible to us, is that these are not just words to our kids, but they actually have impacted the way that they think and act. (On more than one occasion, Jacob has tried a new thing in order to "be a risk-taker.")

We are thrilled that living abroad has made the world a bigger place for our kids. And we are so proud of our kids for the little people they are and the big people that they are becoming.

Signs Signs Everywhere the Signs...

We have seen lots of hilarious signs over here in Japan. (Although the Japanese "Engrish" has become less funny to us as we have learned Hiragana and Katakana, some of these still crack us up.)

Some examples:

But this next one has got to be up there as one of our favorites. Toilets are kind of a funny thing in Japan. On the one hand, as you may know, they have some pretty fancy toilet seats over here - warm your butt, spray, and may do all sorts of other fancy things. But there is also a dark- low-tech side to the Japanese toilet experience. Namely, the squatters (or "squatty potties," as some may call them). You often find these in more rural areas. Last weekend, when we were hiking in Inari, we came across this instructional sign on proper toilet use in the bathroom.

We shudder to think what must have happened to cause them to think - "Alright, I guess we better put this sign in there"!!

June 10, 2009

Ichiro - Hawking Beer

New Ichiro Suzuki Kirin Beer ads around Kobe.

Ichiro is just cool. And he pours a nice beer.

June 8, 2009

Fushimi Inari Shrine - O Torii Everywhere!

On Saturday we (the Kasdan's and our friends from Tokyo, Bob and Maho) went to a terrific mountain-side shrine called Fushimi Inari. Although this is not one of the places you read about in guidebooks to Kyoto, it most definitely is one of the best shrines we have been to. It is located at the base of Mount Inari in the small town of the same name, just a couple of stops south of Kyoto Station (on the Nara Line). The best part are the great hiking trails through the mountains, with some nice look-outs.

We got the kids these bamboo walking sticks mid-way through the hike at a small shop for 200 yen. (We then walked not seven steps around the corner and there was another shop selling the walking sticks for 190 yen. Competition is fierce on Inari-san.) They actually used them as walking sticks and not weapons for most of the time. Which was good.

The shrine is unique for a couple of reasons.

The first is the foxes (kitsune). Thought to be the messengers of the Shinto God of Rice (whom the shrine is dedicated to), there are lots and lots of fox statues.

The second is the 0-torii gates. There are said to be over 10,000 of them here. (We didn't count, but it seems in the ballpark!) They line the hiking paths like a corridor, which is fun to walk through and very picturesque. So, here are our pictures from the day:

Next to the o-torii corridors, there are many little shrines adorned with foxes and 0-torii of all sizes. There are some small lakes along the way too. What is particularly amazing are the houses up on the mountain-side next to the hiking trail; it is a solid hike up there and there is no real "town" to speak of. Apparently, though, people live there. A slow peaceful life, to be sure. On the way down, we walked next to this bamboo forrest, which is always a nice treat.

June 7, 2009

Sunday at Koshien - Our Last Tiger's Game (For a While, At Least)

On Sunday, our friends the Atchisons, got us all tickets to the Hanshin Tigers. (Sending out a big thank you!) So, after a leisurely Sunday morning of brunch, wandering through the Rokko Island flea market, scootering, and tossing the baseball around, the six of us (the Kasdan's plus Bob and Maho, our friends visiting from Tokyo)headed to Koshien Stadium. After a cloudy morning, the sky broke and it turned into a fine day. The kind of great baseball weather day about which Ernie Banks would have said "Lets play two."

As usual, one of the best parts of going to the Tigers games are the rabid (and loving) Tigers fans:
With time a-winding down, we are thinking this will probably be our last chance to get to Koshien before we head out. We arrived early enough at the park to see batting practice and team stretching, which was neat.

As for the game action, we actually had to leave the game a little early this time, and when we left the Tigers were trailing 3-2. (Which had Jacob apoplectic and miserable: "They are so weak! Its no fair." Yeesh). Luckily we got home in time to see the Tigers stage a 9th inning comeback, loading the bases with one out before everyone's favorite Tiger, Kanemoto, bounced a two RBI single down the first base line. Sayonara win!!!!! Kanemoto was hero of the game. We got to watch our friend Scott Atchison pitch a scoreless inning of relief in the 7th, and fellow Rokko Islander Jeff Williams picked up the win with a scoreless ninth.
Go Tigers!!!

O-o-o-o Hanshin Taigasu

We will keep rooting from afar!

Ishiyaki Osusume in Sannomiya - Some Solid Local Advice

On Saturday night, we went out in Sannomiya with our friends Bob and Maho. Although we have done a (we think) respectable job wandering through the many restaurants on Saturday nights, it is always nice to have native Japanese speakers with you. It opens up the world of the more non-descript kanji-menu only places. And, we learned, it allows you to get awesome local advice on where to eat.

We started off at a hole-in-the-wall tachi-nomi (standing-up bar) that also served appetizers and excellent kushiage, which, along with yakitori, is pretty much the perfect accompaniment to a cold beer. The place had maybe 8 spots along the counter, and aside from us, there were a couple of regulars, who had been drinking there for a while. They were friendly, and engaged in some standard Kansai vs. Tokyo banter with Bob and Maho. When we asked for a next place recommendation, he thought for a while, before recommending a place called Isshian. He tried to give us directions there, but then thought the better of it, and decided he would walk us to the place (a few blocks away) by himself. We all were pretty certain that he was going to atually join us for dinner, but he didn't. He did have some words for the waiter there when he ordered up our table, telling them to take good care of us since he had recommended the place!

Issian is an ishi-yaki (hot-stone cooking) restaurant. This was a new type of restaurant for us. Ishi-yaki is an ancient cooking method and is traditionally done with seafood, but now includes meat too. The menu included all sorts of fresh seafood, chicken, meat, and vegetables that you cook on a large hot flat volcanic rock set in the middle of the table. And the food was awesome. One of the great things about many Japanese foods is the simplicity. Its just about the fresh ingredients - in this case nice fat scallops, chicken, and fresh fish, cooked very simply and served with sauces like soy, or with salt, or with a miso or garlic paste.

Hmmm. I think we might need one of these stones for back home. We could cut a hole in our kitchen island and just plop it right in there . . . .

They also had terrific rice. Each bowl is made to order; each cooked in a stoneware bowl in a hot oven and finished by steaming in a wood-covered bowl in the table for the final two minutes (They place a sand-timer on the table for the final countdown).

So thank you, random drunk Japanese guy, for leading us (literally) to this incredible meal. We never even caught your name!

June 6, 2009

Holy Asian Horned Beetle!

Yup, we cover it all here at the Kasdan Family Blog.

We live on the 9th floor and the elevator access, strangely and annoyingly, in only to the 8th and 10th floors. So we have to walk up or down. Usually, as you might expect, we walk down from the 9th floor to the 8th floor when we leave the apartment. But, lately that all changed. That was because of this guy, who settled onto the staircase between the 8th and 9th floor and didn't seem to be moving anywhere for 4-5 days.

Finally, Mike was tasked with capturing him, and, killing two birds with one stone, we put him in our (very Japanese) plastic bug catcher box and Lauren brought him to school. They are doing a unit on bugs, and got a note to bring in (non-squished) bugs to examine under the microscope. I don't think they were expecting our gigantic live asian long-horned beetle! (That's what he is.)

As a side-note, there certainly are some amazing and different bugs out here. And kids love collecting them. They sell these gigantic black beetles at Toys R Us!

(Anyway, for those of you squeemish non-bug people, sorry for including our little domestic adventure. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. . . )

June 5, 2009


Friday was a strange weather day. Rain. Sun Showers. And then bright sunshine. On the way home on Friday, Mike was lucky enough to see a complete end-to-end rainbow. One end was visible from the Rokko Liner, where the below low-res (sorry- camera-phone only) pictures were taken, and from Rokko Island, you could see the other end, and almost all of the connecting arch. Nice way to start the weekend!

June 1, 2009

Hong Kong - Goldfish, Flower, and Bird Markets

We reserved Sunday for wandering around some of the markets of Mong Kok area of Kowloon. Exploring Mong Kok felt like we were getting into the dirtier, seemier, seedier parts of Hong Kong...But in contrast to the previous night's experience at Temple Street, the markets we saw on Sunday were unusual and fun for everyone.

Goldfish Street

First, we walked down Goldfish Street, a few blocks that are lined with really over the top fish stores. Giant goldfish. Beautiful live coral. Tropical neon fish of all colors. Turtles. Crabs. So fun to explore!

Flower Market

Next, a few blocks down, we strolled down the Flower Market, a street lined with flower stores. Amazing cheap bouquets! (None of which we could buy!! If we lived in Hong Kong, we would have a giant aquarium and stunning flowers everywhere by now!). Lauren was smelling everything in sight.

Bird Market
Finally, we ended our market adventures in the best of them all, the Bird Market. Not only do they sell hundreds and hundreds of different song birds, but they also sell the (creepy crawly) bird food, the cages, and all acoutrements. Birds are chirping and flying every which way all over the place. What a neat place! (Click on the below picture for a very chirpy high speed flying video)

One Last Dim Sum Meal!

For our last meal in Hong Kong, we decided we had to go back to the dim sum well. We tried Chao Inn, which was right across the street from our hotel on 10th floor overlooking Victoria Harbour. Though they didn't have the carts - you order from a picture menu and check off what you want on a paper slip - their dim sum was excellent and super-cheap. Favorites again where the har gau and egg-creme filled buns. And the noodles we ordered were also incredible. The smile says it all!

And that was Hong Kong! We came. We saw. We partied. And we ate! As Lauren said on our way to the airport; "Goodbye Hong Kong. I love your food!"

It was a stellar weekend, and we are so happy to have squeezed this trip in!

Hong Kong - The Peak, Lantau Island, TST Promenade, Temple Street Market

Day Two of Our Hong Kong Trip

On Saturday, we ferried, we trammed, we cable carred, we hiked, and we partied like rock stars. Sort of. Well, it was a packed fun day!

The Peak

After a morning swim and quick breakfast, we kicked off our second day by taking the Star Ferry over to Central and then heading to the Peak Tram. The Peak Tram is a funnicular that zooms you up an insanely steep angled hill up to The Peak, a look-out area with hiking and walking paths that overlooks Victoria Bay. It was a sunny morning, and there were lots of people out walking dogs, running, and hiking around. The Peak also had some shops, including our (apparently) new favorite bookstore Dymocks, from which we again bought some English books for the kids (and some for us!).

We took a little hike out to the look-out point. It was had a relatively clear day, and the views from the top were pretty grand.

Wan Chai - Lunch and Markets

After bussing it down, we hit the neighborhood called Wan Chai for lunch. It was aninteresting neighborhood to walk around; much different from the glass-skyscrapered high-end-stores of Central. We saw this guy carving up various cuts of hanging meat, stopped to smell the (jasmine) flowers, and wandered through some back-alley street markets. We also window-shopped past some incredible wood-carved furniture stores.

Lunch was at Pizza Express, a recommended pizza joint that was super fresh and tasty. Either we haven't head real pizza in a very long time, or Pizza Express makes damned good pizza. Hard to say. But we all really enjoyed it. (We also gave Jacob and Lauren pizza for lunch in exchange for them being happy to accompany us for peking duck for dinner. Yeah, we know its not a democracy, but a little negotiation and give-and-take seems to keep things running more smoothly...)

Lantau Island - Ngong Ping 360 & Giant Buddha

After lunch we took the MTR (LOVE the MTR!) to Lantau Island, which is due west of the main Hong Kong island. Lantau is actually the biggest of the islands that make up Hong Kong land-wise, but is very sparsely populated due to the mountainous terrain. (Although we hear that there is a pretty big ex-pat community in Tung Chung, where we arrived).

From Tung Chung (fun to say, isn't it?), you can take the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car Ride, a twenty-five minute cable car over rugged mountains and the water out to the Giant Buddha, which is apparently the largest outdoor seated Buddha statue around.

The cable car ride was pretty amazing. But if we were without the kids, it would have been an even more amazing experience to hike it from Tung Chung. From the cable car, we could see the path below, through the mountains and forrests, past waterfalls. It looked like a terrific hike.

Between Nara and Kamakura, we have seen our share of big Buddha statues. This Buddha (built in 1993) certainly doesn't have the history of those others, but the surroundings of this particular place really made it special. You can see the Buddha from the cable car and from almost all points in the town below. You get to climb 200+ steps to get to it.

From the top, there are mountain views and vibrant (look how perky they are!) pine trees all around. And you can peak down at the Po Lin Monastery in the valley below. And to top it off, they had excellent and refreshing rainbow ice pops at the top. (It's really the little things, huh?)

Peking Duck Dinner and Light Show on the Promenade

That evening, after making it back to TST, we enjoyed a great Chinese dinner of whole Peking Duck (meat and fat separated, served with pancakes, sauce, and cucumbers and scallions), chinese vegetables, and out-of-this-world fried-rice at Peking Garden. The kids weren't so into the duck, so between the two of us, we had plenty!

After dinner, we skedaddled down to the Promenade to catch the Symphony of Lights and the night view of the skyline across Victoria Harbor. The Symphony of Lights is a nightly 8 PM choreographed light and laser show, set to music, involving the skyscrapers across the harbor. Completely cheesy, but totally fun to watch.

Afterward, we took a quick peak at Avenue of the Stars, mainly to find the Bruce Lee statue. Which we did. Bruce Lee. What a bad-ass.

Temple Street Night Market

Although it was already getting late, we wanted to see Temple Street Night Market, which we heard was the best of the night markets of Hong Kong. We explained to Jacob and Lauren that it was Saturday night -- party night for grown-ups and that they were going to get to stay up late.

As for the night market, it was a pretty standard chaotic Asian market, similar to ones we had seen in Thailand and Bali. We've come to the conclusion that these markets are pretty over-whelming, while at the same time being under-whelming. Fun in an overload the senses kind of way. Some interesting things. Lots of crap. Goes on forever. (But, truth be told, probably a lot more fun to do without half- and whole-sleeping children!)

Lauren ended up falling asleep on Mike, who carried her (dead-weight) on the way back down Nathan Road for as long as possible before we had to jump in a cab. (Taxis, incidentally, are super-cheap in HK; you can really get anywhere you want to go for $3-5. The buses are even cheaper, require exact change, and don't seem to care how much money you put in.).

Jacob, on the other hand, took the Saturday night party theme to heart. Even as we returned to our hotel at 10:30 PM, he kept saying "But, I want to party!" When we probed as to what this meant to him, Lauren awoke out of a dead-slumber to inform us "He means eat cake." Oh. Well that makes sense. Luckily, they both settled for watching the lobby piano-bar singer for a while and then heading up to the room, where Mike and Jacob stayed up late flipping between soccer and NBA basketball replays on TV.