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....