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.