Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sometimes it's the smallest things...

Sometimes it's the smallest things that throw you for a loop and make you realize you really are living in a foreign culture. You get used to the big things, like not being able to read most of the signs, and understanding only a few words that people speak.

One day last spring I said to Nick, "Sam really likes that gum that comes with the free post-its."

"Free post-its?" he asked quizzically. "Which gum is that? I haven't seen any free post-its."

"It's the cube gum," I answered. "I don't know why you get free post-its with the gum." It did seem like a very odd combination, free office supplies with your gum.

But I had already seen some odd giveaway combos, like the Miffy phone charm with the new flavor of fruit juice. And someone is always handing you a pack of tissues with advertisements from health clubs, gentlemen's clubs, restaurants and plastic surgeons. So while the combination was odd, it wasn't completely out of the question.

We were in a gum sampling mode last spring - all the different flavors here in Japan! No plain old bubblegum flavor, but exotic things like citrus soda! Grapefruit! Grape-cassis! And the very scary looking "black mint" gum where the gum really does look rather gray, resembling a pepper flavored Jelly Belly jellybean. And then we had the cube gum, with the free tiny post-its.

I finally caught on one day when Sam announced that his gum had lost its flavor and he wanted to throw it away. There I was, standing on the sidewalk, fishing through my handbag looking for a scrap of paper - an atm or grocery receipt, a used tissue, anything. The bell finally rang in my head - Aha! That's what those post-its are for!

You see, the cube gum comes in a box and there are no individual wrappers for each piece of gum. So what is a person to do when they need to dispose of the chewed gum? A very tidy, neat Japanese solution. You provide the disposal papers with the gum. They are also very handy for marking pages in books, so I keep a few extra "post-its" with my book group books. And since I used most of my used tissues to toss the chewed gum away, I have a very good supply of the tiny post-its.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Walking Around Money

In the US, I never worry about how much cash I have in my wallet. I know that I can always use my debit card - even at McDonald's - and I don't need to count bills.

In Japan, it's different. My local grocery store just started accepting credit cards this past June. June 2009, that's right. Up until June, if you wanted groceries at Marusho, you took cash, only cash, thank you very much. When you spend at least $40 every time you walk into that store like I do - milk costs about $2.75 a QUART - you need a lot of cash just to walk around.

Credit cards are not used very much - maybe for big ticket items like furniture, but even then many people use a bank draft. Restaurants don't take cards most of the time, neither do smaller retail shops. In Japan, cash is king.

As a resident of Japan, you become very aware of where your ATM is, and how much cash you are carrying. And the amount you carry changes. I feel like I have a lot of cash in my wallet in the states when I have $100 or more. Not so in Japan. I need at least $250 to feel comfortable walking around. I know I can use my ATM at the post office banks, and at my bank's ATMs, and I am very aware where that is - thank goodness there is a postal atm at the local train station.

And did I mention that I pay my bills in cash? I take cash at the atm, go to my local conbini - 7-11 or FamilyMart, hand over the bill and pay it in cash. Why I can't hand them my card, I don't know - very frequently I take out cash at the conbini ATM and hand it over to the cashier. You'd think it could be a simpler process.

The other thing I find amusing about this cash-based society is the Japanese credit card Nick and I have. We can pay for things with the card (when you find a retailer that takes a card), but the charges are deducted from our account that month automatically. If we want to carry the balance over, we have to call the bank and make special arrangements. It's no wonder that the Japanese save and Americans spend with those policies and philosophies.

Nick and I are grateful that paying off a credit card on a monthly basis is normal to us rather than unusual (thanks to our thrifty, wise parents) and we never expect to call our bank to request a monthly carryover.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


I am willing to bet that none of my American friends have ever heard of Yosakoi. I don't think I am even capable of explaining it, so I will direct you to the wikipedia explanation: Yosakoi wikipedia

Hard to explain in english, isn't it?

Ok. There was a HUGE yosakoi festival in Omotesando last week, and we decided to go. The festival was set up in Yoyogi koen, the large park that we live near. It's 2 subway stops away, about a half hour walk or a 10-15 minute bike ride. We took the subway from Yoyogi-uehara to Meiji-jingumae and there we were, right in the middle of the festival.

We took some time to watch the yosakoi groups at the stage right near the Meiji-jingumae subway station. Nick and I planned to get all the boys some lunch at the park - Japanese street food is the best junk food you will ever eat. After some yakisoba and yakitori, we walked down to the next stage and watched some more groups perform.

This was so much fun. The dancing is fun, and the groups vary so much- there are college groups, neighborhood groups with older ladies and toddlers, and work groups like the TokyoMetro group that was the last group we saw perform. After their energetic, entertaining dance, it started to rain, so the Johnsons decided to head back to the subway and go home.

The group we had just seen perform was also headed home - and there they were, en masse in the subway - the Tokyo Metro Yosakoi dance group. They were very gracious and
friendly and let us take some photos with Michael and Sam. Then we said
sayonara - and they took the train one direction, while we headed back to Yoyogi-uehara.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Back to School

After a fun summer break in the US, with family visits in both the US and the UK plus vacations, we are now back in Tokyo and doing all the back to school events that happen in the beginning of the year. This is a very special year for the Johnsons, as all the boys are at the same campus for ASIJ this year. We decided to send Sam to kindergarten at the big campus at Chofu and then all the boys would be on the same schedule. Very liberating for mom, too!

Add ImageSam has settled into kindergarten after a week of transition days - one day on, one day off. He is asking about buying a cafeteria lunch, and he is excited to play on the big playground at the elementary school. He also really loves the book that his teacher read, a Max and Ruby story called Bunny Cakes. The classroom is sunny and colorful, and there is a pet rabbit named Ralph. I asked Sam if Ralph hopped around the room, and he said yes, but that he always hides in the class bathroom. Can you blame him? I think I might be tempted to hide in the bathroom if I was in a room full of kindergarteners, too.

Michael's third grade teacher is deeply interested in her third grade class and I think will be very responsive to any questions we might ask. I am very glad that there will be some handwriting work - all of the Johnson boys could use a little help in that area. Michael is a happy kid and was - to my surprise - very pleased to see me today at the Back to School event for the elementary school. Michael's sense of humor is really growing stronger and more sophisticated (ha). The class poster for "What grosses me out..." is full of what you would expect from 3rd graders - body emissions, human and animal, but Michael wrote "When my brother ate a slug."

Chris has settled into middle school with no real adjustment issues - he loves the extra freedom and activities that 6th graders have. He has joined the 6th grade soccer group and he also goes to the Games Club. He will be attending the Middle School social/dance today - he assures me he is only interested in the food!

Our only concern for Chris this year is his math class. I attended the Middle School Back to School night last evening, and was very pleased and impressed with all the teachers he has. The curriculum seems well designed, and the Middle School facilities are beautiful. When I returned, I talked to Chris about what I had seen and he mentioned that the text book he received in math class was a text book he used - in 4th grade at Claymont.

That is just unacceptable. Last year was kind of strange, moving mid year, so I was willing to let Chris adjust and not fuss about his classes. But if we continue this way, he will be behind when we return to the US. Not to mention bored, doing 6th grade math for yet another year. So I have spoken to his advisor already, hoping to have Chris moved to a 7th grade class. We will find out shortly. I am a bit upset, since I know if we were in Delaware he would have finished the 7th grade text he was using in 5th grade, and would probably have moved onto more challenging and interesting mathematics. The advisor says Chris would only be allowed to take 7th grade math if they feel he could perform at the top of the class. I do hope they advance Chris, otherwise we are going to have to find a math tutor to keep him up to speed.

More posts to come on interesting Japanese cultural foibles that westerners have difficulty with like bread.... and toilets....

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What's He Worth?

Another language faux pas from yours truly. I am so embarrassed and my teacher would really scold me if she reads this. Saito-san, please forgive me, I am so terrible with numbers and counting.

A few weeks ago Sam brought a friend home from school some playtime. Sam and Aidan had a great time playing - they found some of the other kids in the building from the ELC, and played in the kids room here. They constructed legos, pretended they were in the jungle, and then ate dinner together - a great playdate.

Aidan's family live in Moto-azabu, about a half hour away from us in Yoyogi-uehara by train. We decided the best thing to do was to meet in a station in between and Aidan's dad would meet me on his way home from work.

The subways in Tokyo are superb. They are punctual, clean, reliable - and best of all - kids under the age of 6 ride free. So to take 2 small boys on the subway is not a big deal - it's kind of fun. Aidan, Sam and I met Aidan's dad in Omotesando, and Aidan and his dad headed on their way and Sam and I turned around and headed back home. 

Now, I did not exit the station at Omotesando, so my subway card did not register when I came back to Yoyogi-uehara, and the turnstile alarm went off. I knew this would happen, so I was prepared with my meager Japanese to explain what I did:

Pam: Sumimasen. Omotesando ni ikimashita. 
Pam: Excuse me. I went to Omotesando.

Well, I'd be lying if I said I knew exactly what he said, but he said something to the effect that I didn't leave the station, and I agreed with him. The stationmaster took my subway pass, and proceeded to deduct the fare to and from Omotesando.

Here is where I am embarrassed to say that I got confused, and I thought he was deducting a fare for Sam. I wanted to explain that Sam was only five years old.

All that I managed to tell him was that Sam was 5 yen. I don't know if he thought I was offering to sell Sam, or what kind of crazy deal I was trying to make, but he looked at me kind of funny. I immediately realized what I had said, and turned so red that I looked sunburned.

"Sumimasen, sumimasen, gomen nasai, wakarimasu, da joobi desu. Excuse me, excuse me, I apologize, I understand, it's okay," I stammered repeatedly. These are very useful phrases when you have said something really foolish, like your son is 5 yen.Add Image

I realize that reviewing my Japanese numbers and counting is crucial to avoid these cringe-causing moments, so I am now reviewing all my Japanese lessons - particularly counting and numbers.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Happy Birthday Mom!!!!!

Happy Birthday, Mom!

A Video Card for Mom on her birthday - we miss you! We hope you have a great day with Russ and Courtney and Cole.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Julie Asks, "What are you eating?"

My friend Julie asked me what we were eating. It's an interesting question. Do you try to cook just as you did in the United States? Or do you change how you approach the dinner/lunch menu?My approach has been a mixture of trying to cook like I did in the US, with some changes.
 Some of the ingredients that are staples of American cooking are not as readily available, and you have to compromise. I have also tried some new recipes that are Japan-influenced, and these recipes of course are easy to shop for - no missed ingredients or compromises!

One of the first dishes I tried cooking was yakisoba, and it has become a regular meal at our home. During Sam's first few weeks at school, one of the moms came in and fixed yakisoba as part of the cooking segment the class has on Fridays. That afternoon she told me how much Sam enjoyed the yakisoba, and I asked her how she made it so I could fix it at home.

Yakisoba is one of those dishes that has a million variations, but it is essentially a one-dish meal that can be on the table in 15 minutes. That's my kind of meal. And if it tastes good? That's a home run.

Here is how I fix yakisoba - "fried noodles."

Bacon - about 1/2 lb.
1/2 onion,  chopped
1 large carrot, cut into thin batons
1/4-1/2 head cabbage, thinly sliced.
2 packages of soba noodles, 170 g each.
Bull Dog yakisoba sauce, or worcestershire sauce.


First, fry the bacon. Then add the onion and carrots and cook until onion is starting to soften.
 Drizzle with some sauce.

Then add the cabbage, and let it cook down a bit.

Sometimes I put a lid on it to accelerate the wilting. Drizzle again. 

Add the precooked noodles, let heat up until you can break the noodles up, drizzle with sauce again. Cook until everything is heated through and eat. You can always add more sauce if you want it. 

I have used chicken, and it works well. I found a recipe for yakisoba using seafood, and I am
 going to try that soon. The Bull Dog sauce is probably available in an asian food market, but you can use worcestershire. The Bull Dog is thicker, but has a similar flavor. If you can't get fresh soba noodles or precooked ones, just get the dried ones. I'm pretty sure the SuperG on Concord Pike has dry soba noodles in their asian food section.

Here is my yakisoba, moments before it was consumed by the horde!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Egg Hunt at Komaba Park

We have had the most beautiful weather in Tokyo this week. It has been warm and not too windy, perfect weather for the end of sakura viewing. The blossoms go so fast.

We live in a neighborhood that has a strong expat tradition of a big Easter Egg Hunt and picnic in the local park called Komaba Park. This past week I received an email from the
 Neighbourhood News giving the details on the egg hunt, and where to drop off the filled eggs (12 per child that you bring). So I signed up Michael and Sam, and went to hunt for plastic Easter eggs, because my own incredibly valuable plastic eggs are in STORAGE somewhere in Maryland. 

I am just kicking myself for not bringing some of this stuff. I ended up buying a pack of 48 plastic eggs for over 2000¥. Around $20US for plastic eggs! Ah well, we live and learn. I will make sure that when we are sent back to the US that I bequeath my plastic eggs to an expat family.
So the eggs are stuffed and dropped off. A picnic is prepared. And it is a beautiful day at Komaba Park. The kids had a great time hunting for eggs, playing picnic games, and just enjoying the last of the cherry blossoms. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Chris' Colonial Day at ASIJ

March 19th was a special day for Chris at school - the fifth grade celebrated Colonial Day. 
Or Pioneer Day, or Heritage Day - I heard it called all three names. They were celebrating the conclusion of their unit on the American Colonies. A whole day of activities was in the works, including silhuouette drawing, candle dipping, johnny cake frying, weaving, and lantern making. Then the children enjoyed a "colonial lunch" in each classroom, and then there was a musical presentation in the ASIJ theater. 

Chris has settled into his usual, volunteering sort of nature, and volunteered for a speaking part in the musical program and the small singing group. I took the train up to school after dropping Sam off at school and I was able to see the candle dipping and weaving, have lunch and enjoy the very fine musical presentation.

As you can see, colonial costumes were the order of the day. Each child had a colonial character that they learned about and incorporated into their studies. Chris was a carpenter. He tried to talk me into letting him carry tools into school and rubbing dirt on his face to be more authentic. I said absolutely no to the tools, and suggested theatrical makeup rather than dirt, which ended that conversation. Chris decided to created some tools from cardboard and hang them from his belt, and he was satisfied.

Here is some video:

Monday, April 6, 2009

Tokyo Marathon 2009

Here's a benefit to living in an international city: world class sporting events. On March 21st, over 30,000 runners took part in the Tokyo Marathon, and the Johnsons saw some of them! We had a special reason for going to see the marathoners - two of the boys' teachers ran. Michael's second grade teacher Ms. Brown, and Sam's Teacher Mary both ran the marathon. 

That day was at the beginning of the boys' spring break, and to kick it off, we went down to Hibiya Park where we knew the runners would be going by. The marathon website said there would be tourist information at this particular park, which was fairly close to us, so we chose that location to watch. We arrived at the park around 11am, and stayed until past 1 pm, and there were athletes running by the entire time we were there.

Unfortunately, we missed seeing Ms. Brown and Teacher Mary. But we did see some costumes that did make you doubt the runner's seriousness. Or perhaps they just wanted their friends and family to be able to see them.

Michael and Sam were in hysterics at some of the crazy getup that some of the runners wore. We saw many cows, pandas, goofy pink wigged athletes, and a cello run by. 

It was a very windy day and rained off and on, luckily not enough to make us leave. After cheering on the athletes, we had some delicious street food from vendors in the park. 

I can't stress enough how good the food is here. In the US when you go to something like this, you expect to pay a lot of money for crappy food. Not here - it is not too expensive to buy street food (keeping in mind that this is Tokyo), and it is good. Nick and I had some yakisoba in a regional style, Chris and Michael had tacos, and Sam opted for a hot dog - big surprise there. I got Sam his hot dog from a cart with very fancy fixings - knowing his tastes, I said, "Purain dog, onagaishimasu." (Plain dog, if you please) I am still laughing because Sam's plain dog came with ketchup and shredded cabbage - and he ate it all up!

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March 21 was still pre-sakura (cherry blossom), but Hibiya Park had pretty displays of bulbs. Michael particularly liked them.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

St. Patick's Day in Tokyo

I don't know about you, but I didn't expect St. Patrick's Day to be observed or even mentioned in Japan. Imagine my surprise when I read on the Shibuya City website that there would be a St. Patrick's Day parade on Omotesando-dori on March 15th. I couldn't imagine what that would be like, and I really wanted to go. 

We planned to go as a family, but Michael was sick that weekend. Chris had finally recovered from being sick - I think it was his first trip out of the apartment since falling ill on the 9th. Chris and I went down to Omotesando with Denise, Andrew, and Daniel Hersey to check out the parade. 

It was not a huge parade, but it was a fun parade. St. Patrick himself started the parade, followed by the US Army Japan marching band. There were Irish dancers, Irish dogs - setters and wolfhounds, and graduates of an Irish University. In other words, anything remotely Irish was in this parade. 

Every Irish pub in Tokyo marched in the parade with signs and coupons - I have a feeling that they are the primary impetus for this parade! One of the pubs had a super jazzy combo that
 marched in the parade.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Trip to Kamakura

Add ImageI am sure many of you have read the children's book Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus!. I would like to submit a new entry in this genre, entitled Don't Let The 8 Year Old Run The Tour!.

Last month, we took a day trip with our new neighbors and friends, the Herseys. Kamakura was our destination, about an hour away by the train and an easy, very well known day trip from Tokyo. In Kamakura there are many shrines and temples, with the highlight being the Daibutsu. Translated by Nick - the Big Buddha. Most guide books call it, in a more dignified fashion, the Great Buddha of Kamakura.
We left for Kamakura from Shinjuku station, headed for the stop just before the town of Kamakura. The book that both Denise Hersey and I had read suggested getting off at this station, and walking to the Daibutsu, enjoying the countryside and the shrines and temples along the way. This sounded like a good idea, as there are a few interesting shrines with quirky customs. One is the money washing shrine. Another is a shrine where you buy a small pottery plate and smash it on a rock, I think banishing evil or negative influences.

Please forgive me if I am not sure what these shrines are to commemorate, or the reason for the temple. I can't even tell you the names of anything save the Daibutsu. 

When we left the train station, we picked up a guide map that showed the walkway to the Daibutsu. We followed the map, and obediently stopped at the first temple. The temple had been in that location for hundreds of years, rebuilt only when an earthquake made the rebuild necessary. We had brought a picnic, and ate our lunch there. It was a beautiful, sunny day. There was a flowering tree that had just started to bloom - maybe peach or pear? After lunch, we finished exploring the temple grounds and the connected cemetery, which was fascinating to all the boys because of the caves and springs.

We decided to make our way to the next stop, when we all suddenly realized - the grownups enjoying the weather and conversation - that Michael (the 8 year old in question) and Daniel Hersey (9) were very far ahead indeed. Deciding whether or not to take the hill path was a moot point. If we wanted to take our sons home with us, we were going to have to catch up with them on the hill path.So Michael and Daniel, raced ahead of us, Sam and I dragged along at the rear. It was a good thing that it was a gorgeous day, and it was the first time we had been out of an urban environment since we had arrived in Tokyo. 
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I don't like to be a complainer, but I have to take issue with the book that I have been using to navigate Tokyo as far as the section on Kamakura goes. The book mentions the hill path, and suggests comfortable walking shoes. I would suggest hiking boo
ts, bringing water, and a walking
staff, and suggest that you leave smaller children at home. This hill path was STEEP, was quite treacherous in spots where the path had eroded around the roots of the trees. If it had been a hot summer day, we would have really wanted some water, especially with the fast pace that Michael and Daniel set. So we walked as quickly as we could to catch up with the boys, and as carefully as we could. Sam started to complain about the walk, and Nick carried him on his shoulders. 

Add ImageWe finally made it to the Daibutsu, which was really specta
cular. You can even go inside for the very small fee of 10¥. The buddha's sandals are on the wall for you to see - they are replaced on a regular basis.

Visiting the temples and shrines along the Kamakura path will have to wait for an adult excursion, when we are not racing to keep up with the 8 year old tour guide!

One of my favorite photos from our trip is a sign I saw on the way. So many Japanese people speak and write English, it is amazing, humbling, and shaming that those of us who speak English do not make this effort. At the same time, there are some very funny English signs posted around Tokyo that make me giggle. Here's one:

Oh, to be troubled by garbage!

New posts

Sorry to take so long to post a new entry! My sister just gave me a nudge, and I promise there are many posts coming up. We have had spring break and sick kids - just enough of a routine break to throw me off. 

Friday, March 6, 2009

Sam's Birthday

We took the boys to the National Children's Castle for Sam's 5th birthday. It is an entertainment complex in Omotesando with a play area, arts room, music room - all with drop-in activities. The art room has a 20 foot wall that kids can paint on! There was an art activity set up for girls day that I really wanted to do, but - no girls in our party except for me, and I was too shy to stand in line (with no kids) to get the kit to make the origami dolls. 

There are computers with games (some in English, thank goodness), computers to explore music, and foosball and pool for older kids. There's a gym, a pool, and an outdoor roof garden with tricycles to ride on. It is definitely geared toward younger children - Chris was quickly tired of the set-up, but a very good day out for the younger boys!

On the way to the Children's Castle, we spotted an amazing bakery with the most beautiful fruit tarts I have ever seen. There were gorgeous confections of mango, green melon, all sorts of berries. There was a tart with soba noodles and strawberries sprinkled with white sugar - and one with whole pears, peeled, sliced and fanned with the stems still attached. Another with mochi rice cakes in pink and white studded around the edge. Well, Nick's birthday was in 4 days, I was absolutely cupcaked out after Sam's birthday, so we stopped and ordered a mixed berry bavarian creme 15 cm tart for Nick's birthday. If you send me an email, I will tell you the price! I am too embarrassed to post it publicly. But I will post a photo of the most beautiful, tasty tart - Mixed berry with bavarian creme and chocolate straws... yummmm.Add ImageAdd Image

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Enough to be Dangerous

Many of you know that I started taking Japanese lessons about 5 weeks ago. It's coming along ok, I guess. Learning Japanese is so different from learning a European language. I have absolutely nothing to anchor the words to - everything must be memorized. 

For example, in English, cat, hat.
In French, chat, chapeau. (Dr. Seuss fans, anyone?)
In Spanish, el gato in a sombrero.
In Japanese, neko, and kubo.

So many words in the European languages are familiar to English speakers, that much of the basic vocabulary is not completely new. Not so with the Japanese!

My tutor is a very sweet young woman who is studying for her PhD at a university in London, and she received her undergraduate degree from Carthage University in Minnesota. Saito-sensei has started me with the basics I need to find my way around and do my basic shopping. I am learning how to ask for directions, ask WHAT things are (very important), WHERE things are, how to tell the time, etc.

One of the sentences she taught me to use is: Kore wa nihongo/eego de nan desu ka? - What do you call that in Japanese/English? Frankly, I wasn't sure how useful this would be, but I have dutifully learned it. 

A couple of weeks ago I went to Tokyu Hands, an amazing shop that carries just about anything. Think of it as Target meets Home Depot with a healthy dose of Michael's - with a Tokyo price tag, of course. My goal was to hang some of the pictures we brought with us from the states. Our apartment has a very modern wall gallery set-up with a picture rail and hooks set into the ceiling. The only thing missing is the wires and special hooks to use on the picture rail. I was told they were at Tokyu Hands, so off I went after dropping Sam off at school. 

Well, I found them, and selected what I wanted - only one wire plus hooks, just to make sure I had the right thing. I knew I would be coming back to purchase more if everything worked out, so I carefully asked the sales clerk, "Kore wa nihongo de nan desu ka," wanting to know what to ask for the second time around.

Well, she looked at me like I had just stepped off Mars, and then said to me very carefully, as you would to the village idiot, "Kore wa hooku desu." This is a hook. And so it was.

Monday, February 23, 2009

That Sushi Thing

Our Friday pizza nights have turned into Friday yakitori nights - hey, Domino's is about $30-40 a pizza and it doesn't fill us up! But we can get loads of yakitori from the yakitori man who sets up a stall outside our neighborhood grocery every Friday. This past Friday, we added a plate of sushi to the dinner table. Everyone asked Chris and Michael before we left - "Are you going to eat sushi?" The answer is of course, yes! How can you live in Japan and not eat it?

Chris is the most adventurous of our boys, and eats the sushi I can't eat. The first photo is Chris eating salmon egg roe sushi. Michael is more cautious and would rather eat yakitori (grilled chicken on a skewer - yummmm). His sushi choice was the scrambled egg, which I have to agree is kind of yucky - I don't know what is added to it, but it is sweet.  Sam is being surprisingly daring, too. His sushi of choice was shrimp - always a safe option. Sam is becoming quite a fan of wasabi.

So these photos are for my mom and for Dick Moore, who must have their sushi experience through the Johnson boys! Enjoy.

And thinking of the Moore family, I have added a poll to my blog. I recently had a western food attack and bought a case of Diet Coke for the sum of $30. Please fill out my poll - would you be this crazy?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Taiko Drumming at the ELC

This past Wednesday was a national holiday in Japan, National Foundation Day. Chris and Michael had school, but Sam's school had the day off with a special presentation of taiko drumming for the children.

I had never seen taiko drumming before. I knew that it was supposed to be quite an active and athletic performance, but that's all I knew. There is a troupe of taiko drummers that periodically visit the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, but I have never been motivated to go - frankly, it looked very serious and dull.

What we saw at the ELC was anything but serious and dull. It was joyful, entertaining, funny, and exciting. The taiko drummer troupe used large drums, smaller drums, handheld bells and rhythm instruments, plus many different types of flutes and recorders. The children loved it!

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There were traditional songs about springtime, comic interludes with the players portraying animals, and foot tapping songs driven by enthusiastic and energetic drumming. After the performance, the players were very generous and allowed the children to drum on the largest drum they brought.  They were a very child friendly group, and a good introduction for those of us who had never seen taiko drumming before. The players gave the name of each instrument and demonstrated each one, which really helped us understand everything more fully.

If I had to compare taiko to anything I had seen before, I think I would say it was most like traditional commedia dell'arte, with the combination of storytelling and music. My friend Sheila compared it to Native American musical performances - and I can see that, too. 

Sam commented that he could feel the drumming in his chest. I think his favorite part of the day was the playtime with Aidan at our apartment afterward!