Saturday, December 31, 2005

How We Spent New Year's Eve in Japan

An exciting new country, new customs, and a New Year! You may think that we took advantage of the myriad of cultural opportunities at our doorstep. If so, perhaps you have not met us. We are your typical introverted computer geeks (who were blessed enough to develop enough social skills to meet each other, date, and get married).

Since the entire country has time off during the New Year's season, Dan has been at home since Thursday. He was glad to get the vacation since he has been
working hard since we arrived in November. We thought that we would take this opportunity to visit some of the museums around Tokyo. So, instead of going directly to the Tokyo Edo Museum, we first researched it on the internet. Turns out it is closed over the holiday (December 29 - Jan 3). Further research led us to realize that all museums are closed right now. Ok, so that plan didn't work out.

So, we decided that the best course of action would be to play with our
Christmas gifts, Sims 2 and Sim City 4. Three days later, we are still amused by the games. However, we did take a break last night, New Year's Eve, to determine if there was some sort of celebration that we should attend.

Once again we used the power of the internet to determine that the typical 'celebration' of the New Year is to spend the evening with your family somberly reflecting. We turned on the TV to see if there was the equivalent "Dick Clark's Rocking Eve" party here, but only found a concert featuring Handel's Messiah, a
channel that showed cartoons, a variety show of some sort, and an interesting sort of fighting show. We think that it was kick boxing. The fighter's outfits cracked us up:

Also while watching TV, we saw what may be the funniest Japanese commercial so far (Dan calls it, "this side of bizarre"). It looked like a normal kitty treat commercial. There was a cute cat eating treats. Then, it switched to a line diagram of a cat. The kitty treats went in through the mouth of the kitty diagram, moved around in the stomach part of the diagram, collecting all of the line diagram fur, then promptly exited in a compact ball.

After checking out the TV, we returned to our Sim Games. At about 7:40pm, I decided that it was time to get some fresh air and ice cream. So we left our apartment. Dan wanted to go to the nearby shrine to see if it had lots of people or not. We walked up the block and determined that no, our nearby shrine was not the popular place to hang out. Everyone must be at home being somber with their families. Then we continued on to the store to get ice cream. However, the
store was closed (like all of the museums). Other stores were also in the process of closing early, so we ducked into the Family Mart convenience store to grab our tiny individual ice creams. Haagen Dazs is very popular here. However, the individually-sized containers are quite small (good for portion control). To help you understand, here is my tiny ice cream shown next to a quarter (yes, an American quarter, they don't have Japanese quarters):

We finished our ice creams, then once again returned to our Sim Games. It is worth mentioning that it took a little while for us to convince the Sims 2 to install in English instead of Japanese. We had to combine our geekiness and figure out a solution. But that is a different story about how we spent our Christmas. Back to New Year's.

At midnight we finally heard fireworks. We went out onto our freezing balcony and watched the ones that we could see just past a large building. We also heard the New Year's bells that ring 108 times as part of a Buddhist custom to reflect on the bad things of the past year, wipe them clean, and start anew in the New Year.

We turned the TV on again to see what was going on. It turns out that the place to party was actually pretty close to us. The Tokyo Dome had a giant Boy Band extravaganza where all of the popular Japanese Boy Bands sang their songs from the last decade. And we missed it!

Now at 1:55pm on New Year's Day, we are launching the Sling Box to watch the ball drop in New York.

Happy New Year!
Our Japanese Apartment

Things that are the Same

Internet - Ah yes, the wonders of the internet are here in Japan. We have a high-speed connection at our apartment that allows us to do many things. One of these things is that we have a voice over ip (VOIP) phone. Our phone is plugged into a router that we bought from Vonage (a VOIP company). This is plugged into the internet line. Basically this means you can call us at a Virginia phone number and it rings here. Remember - Do not call in the middle of our night or early on our Saturday morning. We will be most unhappy. If you are on the East Coast of the US, remember to add 14 hours to your time. That is the time here in Japan.

One of the other awesome things that keep us connected to the United States is our Slingbox. The Slingbox lives in our Virginia condo with our TiVos and Daniel. By connecting the laptop here in Japan to the internet, we can launch the "Sling Player" program. This allows us to communicate with the Slingbox in Virginia and control one of our TiVos. We then feed the laptop picture and sound into our TV here. That's right, we don't sit around in the evening watching incomprehensible Japanese TV (except for the commercials which amuse us). We sit around and watch quality US shows such as "Joey."

Of course, we also occupy our TV time with other activities. For example, one Monday night after work, Dan had Rich over for pizza, beer, and Monday night football (previously recorded on Sunday). Yes, Japan has Domino's, they deliver, but no $5 pizza. More like $17 each, but well worth it.

Things that are Different

Refrigerator – Size is somewhere between a dorm fridge and a normal fridge. It’s ok.

Microwave – We were slightly confused at first about the large blue button on our microwave. Obviously, the upper right blue switch can be set to 'steaming coffee cup' for the purpose of heating things such as steamy beverages. But what in the world did the snowflake mean? Is this a special microwave that reverse heats? (Note: We eventually figured this one out, but were confused for a little while.)

Things that are Better

Better Windows, Better Curtains - At our Virginia condo we have 2 windows for our 971 square feet. We also have a balcony door. Here we have 2 windows, one fairly large, and a large balcony door for our 415 square feet. The curtains are also very nice. I plan on replacing our curtains at home with these type of curtains. Especially since it means we can get rid of our old, ugly balcony door vertical blinds.

38 Degree Programmable Water - Ok, you can actually program it for other temperatures. But 38 degrees is a great temperature for a shower. No crazy water temperature variation; just set it and it stays warm. We first experienced this pleasant consistent shower phenomenon when we were in Austria. Perhaps this is a phenomenon that only occurs in countries that use the Celsius scale.

Toilet – Like the toilet at the first Starbucks that we visited here in Tokyo, our toilet has a heated seat. I never knew that this was missing from my life until now. The toilet also has some crazy controls that are written in Japanese. It helped us learn the kanji symbols for less and more. Some of them include pictures so you can figure out which controls the bidet. Yes, our toilet is called the “Shower Toilet” which is very popular here in Japan.

Shower Room – The shower curtain is another feature of our current condo that may soon be replaced. Here, you don’t stand in the tub to shower; you have an entire bathing room. The room is approximately 1 meter by 2 meters. It has a deep soaking tub next to the area where you shower. The idea is that you soap up, shower off then soak in the tub when you are clean. While we don’t take the typical Japanese shower/soak, it is nice to have enough space to turn around in the shower. The picture here does not do it justice.

Washer/Dryer - It's awesome. You put clothes in, push some buttons, and wait. The clothes are washed then dried in the same device. No more asking, “Is it time to switch the laundry?” We totally need one of these at our condo.

Things that are Worse

39 square meters (worse? better?) – This is the smallest place Dan and I have ever lived. Well, maybe our college dorm rooms were smaller. Basically we have about 390 square feet. While this sounds super small, it is very well laid out. We have plenty of room to live. So far the biggest problem we have had is Dan getting used to the space. He has hit his hand on the ceiling of the closet, his head on the wall in the bathroom, his elbow on the shower wall, his arm on the bedroom wall, and his forehead on the cupboard (nasty bruise). However, his abuse of the apartment has decreased recently and he is living in more harmony with the small space.

Unconnected beds – For a week, we had 2 separate, twin beds. We knew from our experiences in Italy and at Dan’s parents’ house that we aren’t very good at deali
ng with this. We tend to be close sleepers. Every night, one of us ends up in the crack between the beds when we push them together. After investigating bed connector ideas here in Japan and abroad (Bed, Bath, and Beyond; Linens and Things), we finally came up with a solution. We folded an extra blanket into quarters, the long way, then we put that on the crack. We put our mattress pads in place to cover the edges of that. Then, we used a super giant sheet, provided by Kay’s mom (Kay's mom has sent us many useful things besides sheets, including tea cups, extra plates, bathroom towels, baking powder; very helpful stuff), to cover everything. It is much more comfortable, we barely notice the slight bump. And, after another week or so, we will have new memory foam to put on top. It will be very comfortable. MMMM, memory foam.

Instructions for Everything (Heater/Air Conditioner, Washing Machine, Bath Tub, Toilet) – All instructions are in Japanese. We had to get Kay to explain some of them to us. Some of them are still a mystery, including the rice cooker. However, the rice cooker will make us rice if we push enough buttons. Here is a picture of the controls for our shower room "Dry-Fan 24."

Overall Assessment

We love our Japanese apartment. It is helping us to realize our dream of owning and using less stuff in our lives. Every time we move, we wonder what we packed in the 35-45 boxes that are following us around. Now that we live in Tokyo and only brought 8 boxes/suitcases of stuff, mostly clothes, we think we are getting closer to minimizing stuff. We also love the fact that we live in a great neighborhood in a super-large-city. Everything is close and convenient. We don’t need a car and can take public transportation everywhere. While we can only invite a total of 7 people over for a party, including ourselves, that’s ok. Maybe when we get done with Dan’s work assignments we will move out of the suburbs and closer to a downtown area where we can walk to public transportation, grocery stores, and restaurants. That would be awesome!

A view from here on the 12th floor:

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Or not really...just some minor shaking. Yesterady, in the space of three hours, I felt more earthquakes (3) than the whole time I was in LA (1). Of course, one in LA was a more dramatic quake a 3.0 about 6 miles away. These were very minor I think. Who knows because there are so many here they don't bother meantioning one happen unless they are big. There was a 4.8 that Angela felt earlier yesterday, but I didn't because I was close to the ground. Since we are on the twelth floor, we can feel most minor quakes. It's quite an odd feeling since you sort of slowly rock side to side but nothing around is moving, or rather it is moving the same as you.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Not Quite Darth Kroboth...

So, it turns out our last name render in katakana クロボス (kurobosu) is 黒ボス in kanji. 黒(kuro) means black or guily. ボス is more or less pronouced boss and means the same. So, I am Dan Black Boss. So, not quite a dark (kuroi) boss/lord, but close enough.

Soon, I will tell my son I am his father.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy Dan's Birthday!!

That's right, while you were all asleep, we had an early birthday party for Dan on the 23rd. It was also the Emperor's birthday, so people had the day off from work. It was also a few days after Kay's birthday, so we had a late party for her too. Here is their cake (no, we didn't make it in the fish grill, we actually bought a small toaster oven):

We made Dan decorate the cake, but Kay told him what to write and Mayumi added the decorations that made it pretty.

So, if you have a chance, give Dan a call today. That is, call within the next 11 hours (before 8:30am on the 24th EST) to take advantage of this special opportunity. If you don't have our Virginia VOIP phone number, call Dan's cell phone, he won't answer it since it is in Virginia, but the voice mail gives the new number.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Contemplating O.J.

So, one of the more interesting thing about life in Japan is garbage. With a 127 million or so people on the island, space is at a premium. As a result, there are very explicit instructions for dealing with the trash. Trash must be sorted into recyclable, burnable or non-burnable. For the burnable, you must place it into a semi-transparent special bag that is also burnable. As I throw something away, I often contemplate, "Will it burn?" I feel a little like David Letterman as I walk toward the gas stove to test my theory. Of course, before I actually turn on the burner, I remember that's probably why the house across the street burnt down in the first place. Yet another engineering's abode destroyed in the quest for knowledge.

Once sorted, the challenge of actually disposing the trashing only increases. The O.J. boxes that I'm contemplating up top has three steps in Japanese explaining how to take it apart. I hope to succeed before the night is out.
The Post Office in Japan

Much like the former Starbucks employees of the world who analyze every coffee house they enter
, as a former sort-of Postal Employee, it is my duty to contemplate Post Offices of other countries. The Post Office address practices here are a little different than the practices in the US (numbers removed to preserve our anonymity, we wouldn't want to get random Japanese junk mail that we can't understand).

Of course, the first thing that I noticed was the orientation of the envelope. It is in profile instead of landscape. Very odd. And the zip code comes first (yes, that is our actual postal code). Then there are the wonderful characters which, while pretty, are difficult for us to read.

Now, if you are interested in sending us mail, it is much easier. You don't have to learn a new alphabet or anything. This basic format, plus 80 US cents, will get your letter to us:
Dan and Angela Kroboth
- SecondNumber Iwatocho #AptNbr
Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 162-0832

While we are not posting our complete address here on the internet, we will email it to you if you harass us enough. Our current address remains active until January 10th. Then we will move to another apartment in the same building. However, I have read that mail forwarding works much like the mail forwarding in the US. So don't delay until January 10th to mail us stuff, you can send it today!

It was very exciting, we did receive 2 Christmas letters in the mail. One from the Hines family and one from the Mackenroth family. So we know our address works. Yea!

Oh yes, you can also send us granola bars. Quaker Chewy Chocolate Chunk, specifically. I must stockpile them so that I can eat stuff while I spend a week in the hospital in March.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Angela's Pregnancy FAQ

Since some of you are curious about the whole Kroboth pregnancy thing. You have been asking questions. So, I have prepared the following list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).

How do you feel?
I feel fine. I didn't have any morning sickness at all. I attribute this to the fact that I have a low-stress job working at home. I can eat whenever and whatever I want. While living in Florida, I was also exercising at Curves 4-5 times per week. This helped my over all health and energy level.

Can you find things to eat in Japan?
So far we have started our quest to exhaust Tokyo's supply of Italian, Mexican, Indian, and American-style restaurants. My favorite is El Torito in Omote-sando. I am referring to the El Torito that we found on Thanksgiving. We have gone back again, but it is kind of far away. Plus, now that we have our own apartment, I can try to find food at the local grocery stores, then prepare it at home in an American-style way (read: lots of butter and cheese is involved). Dan and I actually had our first dinner party on Monday. We invited Rich and Kay over. We had homemade pasta sauce with spaghetti. The only problem is that I thought I bought packets of tomato sauce, but it was actually tomato soup. It was still tasty. Oh yeah, the other problem at the dinner party is that Dan set the bruschetta bread on fire in our fish griller. Fortunately our apartment sprinklers did not come on.

I have also stopped rejecting so many foods. For example, when we were at the hotel, I had their cornflakes which included bananas. Bananas aren't so bad if they are slightly firm and not brown. However, I refuse to eat the green and slimy kiwi.

What is the worst thing about being pregnant?
Right now I am struggling with a bit of back pain after I walk around for more than a mile and a half at one time. Fortunately, Dan convinced me to get a support brace for my stomach/back before we left the United States. It does help, but sometimes I have to limit my walking.

What is the best thing about being pregnant?
I love to eat. Yes, sometimes I eat bad things such as Chicken McNuggets and fries. But I also love dried fruit, fresh fruit, granola bars (none to be found here), cheese, and the occasional Wendy's Frosty (packed with calcium, don't you know).

What is the most disturbing thing about being pregnant?
My belly button is becoming shallow! I used to have a deep, meaningful innie. Now, as my tummy gets larger, it is shrinking. Perhaps it will disappear completely. Will it return? This is yet to be seen.

We are excited for you, can we send you a gift?
Due to our current living situation (small apartment in Tokyo), we really don't need any gifts. We have newborn baby clothes courtesy of Angela Hines. We have a newborn pacifier. It is incredibly easy to buy things here in Tokyo so we will probably get some socks, a hat, burping cloths, and a Baby Bijorn carrier here. Diapers are easy to find. If you really, really want to get us something, the best thing would be a gift card to Target or Babies R Us. We will be able to spend these when we arrive back in the United States. We are not even sure if we are moving to Virginia or Utah in April, so sending things to our Virginia address is also kind of difficult for us.

What do you call the baby?
Yes, some people have cute names for the baby. Common ones include "little bean" or "peanut" after the parents see the first ultrasound picture. Neither one of these appeal to me. So Angela2 and I were brainstorming about what to call the kid. She suggested that I was eating for 2, so maybe we could call the baby Number 2. (Brainstorming sessions sometimes don't produce the best ideas.) Not only did this have strange Austin Powers connotations, but it just didn't sound clean. When I told Dan about our brainstorming results, he suggested that we call the kid Number 1. It is our first kid. Or, even better, who is called Number 1? Riker! So we call our kid Riker. (Note: If you don't get the reference, that is ok, it just means you aren't that kind of geek.)

Do you know the gender?
Yes, we are having a boy. The Kroboth legacy will continue!

Have you thought of any names?
In my and Dan's discussions, we have determined that Bambi is a unique name. And the deer, Bambi, was a boy deer. Why is it that so many kids named Bambi are girls?

When are you due?
The official estimated due date is March 24th.

What about traveling?

If all goes well, I should be able to travel up to 36 weeks. The problem we encounter, living in Japan, is that we only have the ability to stay for 90 days at a time. So in order to hang out until the end of April when our kid gets his passport and when Dan's assignment is done, we would need to leave the country at the end of January in order to give us 90 remaining days. So, it looks like I will have to travel when I am 7.5 to 8 months pregnant. Hopefully it will work out well. We will either go on a short trip to a nearby Asian country. Or we will go to the closest US state (not Alaska, that would be crazy in the winter, think warmer).

Travel so far has been pretty easy. Here is the list of US states and Countries that Riker has visited so far:

US States (14)
  • California
  • Virginia (lots of times, at least 4)
  • West Virginia (twice, once for camping, once for spa weekend)
  • New Jersey (stayed with Angela2)
  • Pennsylvania (went to the office here)
  • Delaware (driving thru, stopped at a service plaza)
  • Texas (work trip)
  • Georgia (mostly just stopping at the airport)
  • Florida (lived for 4 months)
  • Minnesota (where we helped to build a tent platform)
  • Maryland (mostly to visit Liz)
  • The District of Columbia (a good place for tea)
  • North Carolina (twice, once before Europe trip, once after)
  • Washington (rainy in Seattle in the fall)

Countries (6)
  • United States (of course)
  • Venice, Italy
  • Train Trip Through Slovenia
  • Austria (Graz and Vienna)
  • Canada (for mom's job interview and contract signing)
  • Japan (to live for 5 months)

Where will you give birth?
I am still researching this. We have 3 options: Ikuryo Clinic near Daikan-yama, Tokyo Women's University Hospital near Dan's work (very close), or another large hospital that caters to foreign women.

I am leaning towards the Tokyo Women's University Hospital because it is so close, they have an English-speaking female doctor, and they offer "pain free childbirth" (read epidural). I hope to investigate this hospital and its suitability to my preferences. My preferences are fairly specific. One is that I resist the idea of a mandatory IV.

Does Riker get to be a Japanese citizen?
In Dan's research, the answer is "no." Unless one of the parents is a Japanese citizen, no citizenship is granted to the kid.

Is Riker photogenic?
Well, Dan and I were both very cute babies. I would post pictures, but they are at our condo in Virginia. However, we do have a couple of pictures of Riker at 17 weeks.

Riker is waving here...

I believe that Riker may be growing Dan's cute caterpillar-like eyebrows. We also believe that he will have dark, wavy hair. I am hoping for the Watterworth nose, but we will see what happens. The first picture looks a little Kroboth-nose like. Nothing wrong with Kroboth noses, but Watterworth noses are superior.

How big are you getting?
Here is a picture of me in Venice, Italy at 14 weeks along.

Since arriving in Japan, I have grown even more.

Will Riker be a hyper child?
Ok, so no one actually asked this question. If his activity right now is any indication, yes. He kicks me every day, multiple times per day. It has gotten to where I can see my stomach move sometimes. Dan felt him kick once, but typically Riker calms down when Dan is around. Hopefully this will carry over into life in the outside world. I suspect many nights of Dan waking up to use his special calming powers to take care of things. :)

Will you and Dan be fun to hang out with after you become parents?
Actually, yes. We hope to employ the well-known tactic of hiring a baby sitter so that we can still hang out with our friends who don' t have kids (or don't particularly care for them). Or, if you have the ability to put up with a small one for a while, we would love to have you over for dinner at our house. Fortunately because there are 2 of us, one of us can pay attention to the kid while the other prepares dinner. We are hoping that Riker takes after me in my love for sleep during night time hours.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

There a four phases of cultural adaptation, and I'm pretty sure I'm still in the first, enchantment. I think that Tokyo is the greatest place I've ever lived. Sure it's crowded, huge, and massively busy, but there are little stores and shops everywhere. If you need to go to a shopping center, there is one in every direction only 15 minutes away by train. You can get everywhere by train. Things that are not at a station are generally only 10 or so minutes walk from the nearest one. We across the road from one subway stop, and about 7 or 8 minutes walk from a good size transportation hub with 4 subway lines and a JR line. It's about 10 minutes on any of those to one of the massive trains stations that have 10 or so lines.

It's hard to compare Tokyo to other large cities, because I've only visited a few.

LA - no comparison. If they had public transit everywhere, it might be as livable. But as long as you don't have to go more than a couple miles there, it's a nice place to live.
DC - Again, a lot like LA, only with less roads and worse traffic.
Atlanta - Roads, no transit. Pain to get around.
London - I think London is a lot like Tokyo. Completely different culture, but from a livablity standpoint, I think it works.
Chicago - Seems easy to get into as long as you are on one of the main transportation cooridors, and it has a lot of great neighborhoods.
Hamburg - Great transit. Nice neighborhoods. etc.
Vienna - Ditto
Rome - Ditto
Misuse of the Fish Gril Part 2

So, our Japanese apartment has this marvelous contraption called a "Fish Grill." It looks and works more or less like a small broiler oven with a rack you pull out and put a fish on. One of my friends at work tells me that the Japanese use this device SOLELY for fish.

Well, Angela and I discovered that it is quite useful for preparing some other things. For example, we do not have a toaster. The fish grill makes great toast. The only downside is that the threshold between excellent toast and carbonized bread is only about 15 seconds.

Anyhow, last night, Angela found a second use for the Fish Grill as "The Littlest Pizza Maker!"

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Welcome to your New Apartment - Excitement on the First Night

That's right, Dan and I finally moved out of our hotel on Friday into our new sunny, Japanese-style apartment. More about that later. First, the description of our first night here.

Why were we awake at 1am?

Well, we were asleep, then the first siren we ignored, figuring that we simply lived too close to the fire station. But then there was a second siren and loud booming noises. I turned over and queried Dan, "Are those explosions?" So, we finally got up to check things out. Here's the view from our balcony.

Fortunately the fire seemed to be limited to a single building. There were lots of fire trucks and water. Poor wooden building. The booming noises were the roof collapsing. The good news, for us, is that our building is made more of brick. And don't worry, we have sprinklers in our apartment:

And a handy escape ladder on our balcony.

More about the nifty features of our strange apartment later...

In the morning, the poor building looked like this, but the fire had been very succesfully contained. It doesn't even look like there was smoke damage on the building next door.

We are hoping for a calmer night tonight.

Friday, November 25, 2005

The Search for Thanksgiving Turkey

Day 1 - Wednesday - Labor Thanksgiving Day
Being Americans, Dan and I thought that we might have turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner. Of course, Rich (Dan's co-worker stuck in Japan for the holiday) was mildly interested in this plan too. There is
not Japanese Thanksgiving in the traditional sense, but they did have a holiday on Wednesday. It is called Labor Thanksgiving Day. Basically you are thankful that you have a job. Many people go to work on this holiday to celebrate. We decided to find Thanksgiving dinner.

We had a good start, one of the women on my foreign-women-giving-birth-in-japan email list emailed about places to find American Thanksgiving dinner. There was a broad range of places. I evaluated the places, removed the ones that used the terms, "foie gras," and "mushroom gravy," then sent the remaining list to Dan and Rich for approval with my recommendation that we go to the placed described this way:

Farm Grill
Nov 20-26
Very spacious causal Californian dining in the heart of Ginza.
Turkey dinner with stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.
Classic roasted turkey, fall vegetable lasagna, classic pecan pie,
rotisserie chicken, classic Caesar salad, and seafood await you.
All-you-can-eat-buffet: JY2500. All-you-can-drink: JY1000.
Open 11:30am-4pm and 5-11pm. Ginza 9 Bldg, 2F, 8-5 Chuo-ku, Ginza.
03-5568-6156. Nearest stn: JR Shinbashi stn

The place sounds great. And how can you beat "all-you-can-eat" Thanksgiving Dinner?

We got a bit of a late start, Rich was busy celebrating his job at work. However, I had some snacks
and we started out optimistically. We took the subway trains to Shinbashi Station. Dan used his recently accumulated knowledge about the area to lead us past Ginza 9-1, Past Ginza 9-2, and right up to Ginza 9-3. We looked, but initially didn't see anything. We wandered all the way around the Ginza 9-3 building and found: A grocery store, a dark alley, and a new restaurant celebrating its grand opening on Friday. Rich and I convinced Dan that he should go ask for directions at the grocery store, "Farm Grill wa doko desu ka?" Unfortunately the clerk had no idea.

Being smart people, we stared at the sign for the new restaurant and concluded that we were at the
right location, the Farm Grill had closed, and it was replaced by the new restaurant. Dan researched the Farm Grill at work the next day, and the best he could tell, it had closed, back in 2004.

By now it was getting very late. Fortunately, Ginza is a neighborhood with lots of restaurants and shops. We looked down the street. I saw a British Flag near a building with a green restaurant-looking sign. "Maybe that is a British Pub!" Excited, we wandered closer to the location, determining that the flag was actually for a school that taught English. So, we walked a little further down and found a steak house. A good, if expensive, backup plan if we couldn't find anything else.
Then we walked a little further down, debated the merits of eating at the steak house, contemplated going to the Hard Rock Cafe or TGI Friday's in Roppongi (kind of far away, another subway ride), when we looked down a side street and saw TGI Friday's! Ok, so it wasn't our finest moment in cuisine selection, but we had some great burgers and fries. :)

Day 2 - Thursday - American Thanksgiving Day

We took our failure on Wednesday to mean that maybe we should just get turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Our original Thursday plan was to simply go to the nearby Hilton buffet which would include turkey. However, Dan realized that the list of places serving turkey only mentioned the Hilton for Wednesday, not Thursday. He researched and found a list of places on-line:

The first 2 places had mushrooms or foie gras, so I skipped over them. The next place, TY Harbor
sounded really good. However, it was at least 30 minutes away. Out of the remaining restaurants, Fujimamas sounded the most normal. I called to make a reservation, but given that it was already Thursday, they were booked. Next on the list was Ben's Cafe, but it sounded a little too casual for the price. So, I called the Pink Cow:

Pink Cow (Omotesando)
Chef Andy Warden's holiday buffet will be available both Thursday and Friday (24/25), and it includes turkey, lots of pie, and plenty of vegetarian choices like stuffed tofu. Y3800 per person. 03-3406-5597.

This sounded good. I can't argue with lots of pie. The price seamed reasonable. When I called, a
native Japanese speaker answered the phone. He was able to tell me that they were completely booked. However, then a woman grabbed the phone, saying, "This will be easier in native English." I agreed and we discussed the options available. She mentioned that there would be some space at the bar. I asked if there was smoking at the bar. She confirmed, that yes, that was the only place there was smoking in the restaurant. I explained that because I was pregnant, I just couldn't deal with the smoke. She then revealed that there was a single table left in kind of a cubby hole room. It was kind of small, but could seat 3 people well. I booked it for 8:30pm.

We left the hotel a little late, about 8:10pm. But it was only a 15 minute subway trip to the
restaurant. When we got to the subway exit at Omotesando, we emerged from underground to look at the map of the neighborhood. It was not terribly helpful. We wandered around the corner. No Pink Cow in sight.

After minutes of frustration, Rich suggested that we take a taxi. Certainly the taxi driver could take us to the correct place since we didn't seem to be there. We hailed a cab and Rich gave the piece of paper with the address of the Pink Cow to the taxi driver. He looked at it and told us, "No taxi,"
explaining that it was nearby. So we got out of the taxi and boldly strode in a direction down the street.

Fortunately we didn't have to go far until we found a police station. Dan, being the designated direction asker, went to get the directions. The police told him, go up 2 traffic signals and take a right. So we wandered in the direction that they told us for a while. We went by 1 signal, no problem. Then we went by a bunch of intersections with cross walk signals, but we just weren't sure if they qualified as actual signals.

Suddenly Dan decided that we should turn right. We wandered down a small road that turned into a dark alley. We avoided a slightly dangerous looking homeless person and ended up at the intersection of another dark alley. There was a building indicating a retirement home, but no more glowing signs or main intersections. I was tired of walking (wish we could have taken the taxi over there) and Rich was skeptical. We were nearly close to staging a coup of direction giving when Dan turned down the side alley and said, "There it is!" We were impressed and will never again question Dan's directional ability.

We approached the entry way to the Pink Cow tentatively. It was located on the lower level of an
otherwise non-descript building. We walked down the stairs and entered the "restaurant." Ok, actually it was billed as a Restaurant and Art Bar (see flyer that we received below). The description said that it was normally a Wine Bar.

As we walked in, we saw the "buffet." It was basically various food, including turkey, set out on the small wall that you can see on this web site review of the place:
As we were already over 30 minutes late for our reservation, Rich was concerned that the food had been sitting out for quite a while on the small wall. Plus, it was the kind of serving arrangement where everyone just serves themselves. No sneeze guards, no real way to prevent dust and stuff from getting into the food. Rich asserted that he would not be eating the food. So, it was up to us to talk our way out of the reservation. Oh yes, there was also a distinct body odor scent permeating the air which didn't sit well with my heightened sense smell.

The owner of the place, Tracy, came up to us looking apologetic. We weren't quite sure why she was the apologetic one. We were the ones who were late for our reservation. Maybe because when we spoke on the phone, she did ask if we had ever been there before, I said no, and she didn't give us directions. In any case, she explained that she lived in Tokyo for 10 years before opening the place. She wanted a community gathering place for people to hang out in. She had the Pink Cow for 5 years. We apologized for being late and then said that we were going to head out, perhaps coming back on a less busy night.

What sort of additional comments are there about the atmosphere of the place? Well, being that it was an "Art" place, there were various photographs on the walls. For instance, in our small alcove with our reserved table, there was a series of 3 pictures that involved a nipple.

But, we talked our way out of the reservation. Having avoided eating (or not eating in Rich's case) in the nipple room, we went back out to the street. We recalled that when we were back at the exit of the subway, there was an El Torito. So, on Thanksgiving night, we ended up having Mexican food. It was really, really good. It was the best El Torito we have ever eaten at. Better than the one back in Shinjuku and even better than the ones in Redondo Beach, CA.

We may go back to the Pink Cow on an evening when we are feeling a bit more
bohemian. Oh, and when Rich isn't wearing his striped Nautica sweater.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Okay...Angela figured out how to add more than one blogger to a blog. Now, I get to post under my name. Hmm...perhaps we should change the timestamps on this blog to something other than PST.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Busy Weekend - Saturday at Mt Fuji
by Angela

Well, it is now Monday morning here. We had quite the busy weekend. Many people replied via email about our blog, it was good to hear from you. However, I am just getting the chance now to reply
to emails and update our blog. Saturday was a beautiful, sunny day. One of Dan's co-workers, Rich, is also here in Tokyo. He encouraged us to sign up for a tour of Mt. Fuji and the Hakone area. It was an amazing trip. We started out by taking a tour bus to the Mt. Fuji Visitor Center. Here is the view from the visitor center:

The cool picture taken above was one that Rich took with his camera. Here is a picture of the 3 of us posing with the mountain playing a decidedly lesser role in the picture. Notice that we are wearing our official "we are with the tour" stickers on our shirts. Notice also that Dan and I are not wearing winter coats yet. It was kind of chilly at the base, but not too bad. The layering was working for us.

Next, we took the bus half way up the 3,776m volcano to the 5th Station. This is where people start the 5-7 hour walk up to the top (but only in the summer). The view of the mountain was pretty cool, but the view of the valley was amazing.

Of course, this tiny bookmark type picture would never do the scene justice. There was a beautiful
lake. The other neat thing were the layers upon layers of mountains. Over on the left side of the picture, you see mountains, then clouds, then some mountains peaking out above the clouds.

After the Mt. Fuji experience, we had lunch, then took a drive through the countryside to get to our next destination, Hakone. We went through many small, cute towns. Some of them included rice
patties, some of them included Denny's.

When we arrived in Hokone, we took a short boat ride over to the place where the cable car goes up the mountain. On the boat we met some people from the United States (one was born in Kalamazoo, MI) who had just finished trecking through Nepal. They highly recommended the experience. However, after further discussion, we concluded that is is a trip that you could take a
kid on, but it works better without. I wonder what types of trips are kid friendly. After talking with the trecking-Americans, we arrived at the base of the mountain. Here is a picture of the cable car we took up the mountain.

The view from the top was amazing. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. This is probably because Japan is the first set of volcanic islands that I have ever visited. We could see the lake below, the mountains beyond that, the Pacific Ocean beyond that. We could look 3 different directions and see the ocean. We could even see Tokyo from the top. Here is a picture of the lake we had been boating on, Lake Ashi.

Beyond the sun-lit mountains is the ocean. The ocean is also the body of water on the left (also beyond mountains). The valley also has a golf course. You can see the cables for the cable car on the right. Also on top of the mountain was a small Shinto shrine. Here is a picture of the shrine sitting on top of a grassy knoll.

Here's Dan and me on the mountain (also on a grassy knoll). Rich had to risk his life to take this picture, there was something moving in the grass near him, probably a small mole or maybe a large bug. The sun was setting while we were up there, so the lighting was low and bright. Notice that we did wear warm coats at this point. It was below 0 degrees C.

We left the mountain and its various views via cable car, then we returned to Tokyo via a bus to the bullet train stop. The bullet train is very fast. Here is our train:

After returning, we went out to eat at El Torito, a mexican restaurant. Mmmmm... A success in the daily search for food for Angela. A good way to end the day. :)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Angela Goes Apartment Shopping

When you think about a Japanese apartment, what comes to mind?

Our original plan was to stick with a western-style, executive housing option in the ex-patriot neighborhood of Roppongi. However, after visiting 3 different apartments, I think we want to try one of the smaller (and less expensive) options available here. Here are the 3 options:

Hotel-Like Room
One option is to stay at a building that offers both hotel rooms and temporary apartments. There were 2 room types here. One was 60.7 sq meters. The other was 51 sq meters. Both felt very large. They had seperate rooms for kitchen, living, bedroom. They had large closets. They had a dishwasher. One kind of fun advantage is the weekly maid service. But it did feel like living in a hotel. We are currently staying in a smaller, more normal sized hotel room and it just doesn't have a homey feeling.

Dark, Vault-Like Room
As I entered the 4th floor of the building, I felt like I was walking into a bank vault hallway. There were doors on each side with weird handles. They were dark and it looked like a bunch of individual bank vaults side by side. This would have been fine except when we walked into the apartment, it was just as dark and vault-like. The wood was a beautiful mahogany color, but just made the room feel even smaller than its 42 sq meters. The beds were separate and set perpendicular to each other. It was cave-like even though it was on the 4th floor. Not somewhere I could see myself living in for 1 day, not to say 5 months.

Bright, Sunny Apartment
This was actually the first place I looked at. The utility room and bathroom were both set off to the side. The main kitchen/living/bedroom area had an open floor plan. The bedroom had a separator wall between it and the living area. There were lots of windows. The only down side wasn't the size (38.5 sq meters), but rather the fact that the beds were separate. The agent showing the place said that we could not move the beds, it would scratch the floor. So the proposed plan was for us to move into this place on Sunday, then move to a different place in mid-December (same building). The new place has a bigger bed, is slightly bigger (by a square meter or two), and is 2 levels. Kind of like a loft, I guess. Unfortunately it was not possible to see the other place, it is currently unavailable.

Decision - Bright, Sunny Apartment
My preference is to stay in the small, one-level place for the entire time. That is, given that we can move the beds carefully together and get one of those bed combiner things. Or, that we can see the second place and kind of evaluate the amount of light and the size of the 2 levels before we move in.

So, we may move Sunday. Overall the experience of apartment shopping was positive. The company that helps Dan's company operate smoothly in Japan had sent over a representative to help me do the shopping. She spoke English well and was fun to be with. I guess we will know soon what will happen with our moving adventure.

I left my work notebook in the US so I wouldn't export any technical data, and I got a new one in Japan. It is becoming my new best friend.

I am sitting in the middle of a room of about 100 other people. We each have a desk that is about .75 meters by 1 meter. There are rows of pairs of four desks like this:
(each xx is a chair)

-xx---xx---xx---xx------xx---xx---xx---xx--- d
desk desk desk desk | |desk desk desk desk | e x
desk desk desk desk | |desk desk desk desk | s x
-xx---xx---xx---xx------xx---xx---xx---xx--- k
-xx---xx---xx---xx------xx---xx---xx---xx--- d
desk desk desk desk | |desk desk desk desk | e x
desk desk desk desk | |desk desk desk desk | s x
-xx---xx---xx---xx------xx---xx---xx---xx--- k
-xx---xx---xx---xx------xx---xx---xx---xx--- d
desk desk desk desk | |desk desk desk desk | e x
desk desk desk desk | |desk desk desk desk | s x
-xx---xx---xx---xx------xx---xx---xx---xx--- k

The desks on the ends are for upper management, like department managers. Everyone else, including the program managers, sits in the other desks. Basically, it's a lot like crew.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

An Introduction Post from Angela

(Happy Anniversary to us today, the 16th of November)

Dan and I have been married 3 years now and finally we have decided to create a blog. We feel the need to share our exciting Dan + Angela Adventures (DAng-Adventures) with those of you who are interested. To catch you up to date, we are currently in the middle of a program for Dan's work where they transform him from a simple Software Engineer into an exciting Systems Engineer.

The Program: Basically 5 young engineers are selected each year for this program. Initially Dan was selected as the 6th person on this list, not making it into the program. We went out to celebrate the fact that Dan was a fairly cool guy and almost made it. However, someone dropped out so he made it! Rather than celebrating again, we quickly dropped everything going on in our lives in Falls Church, VA in October of 2004. As he was a late entry, we didn't have as much time as everyone else to wrap up our personal/professional lives.

My Work Situation: I asked my work if they would be willing to change my status from full-time Arlington, VA employee to part time contractor working remotely. They said no. So two weeks later, I became unemployed-Angela.

Dan's First Assignment: Redondo Beach, CA; October 2004 - March 2005. While it was very nice to spend the winter living and working in sunny California, we experienced the second rainiest winter on record. However, it was awesome. The weather was beautiful most of the time. We met great people at Rolling Hills Church who were involved in a young-married couples' group. We traveled to Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley National Park, Big Bear, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Monterey. An amazing first location.

My Work Situation: After 5 months of being bored and unemployed-Angela, my work decided that they would hire me back as a part-time contractor. To get around the "no contractors working remotely" rule, I agreed to commute to the Irvine office 1 time per week. It was an hour to an hour and a half drive, but not bad once a week. Plus, we were almost done in Redondo Beach.

Dan's Second Assignment: Melbourne, FL; March 2005 to October 2005. Perhaps it was not the best idea to spend the summer in central Florida during the worst hurricane season on record. It was sooo hot. We tried not to go outside. Fortunately we were not hit by any hurricanes. Melbourne is an interesting town. It is basically a suburb without a metropolitan area. This assignment helped us to realize 2 main things. 1) We are city people and enjoy having stuff within walking distance; 2) We do not wish to live in Florida, it is too hot.

My Work Situation: As we were nowhere near an office (3 hour drive to Miami), my agency allowed me to work from home all the time. I did end up visiting some of our offices, in Minneapolis, DC, and Dallas. This worked pretty well.

Dan's Third Assignment: Tokyo, Japan; November 2005 - April 2005. We are just getting started here in Tokyo. It will test our theory about being city people.

My Work Situation: A foreign country was pushing it a bit for my agency to keep me on. They put up with remote locations in the United States, but couldn't quite justify Tokyo. So, I once again found myself to be unemployed-Angela. However, that lasted less than a week as I started working for a Canadian company that will allow me to work remotely from Tokyo. :)

Our Family Situation: That just about brings us up to date. The only additional note to make the situation even more unusual than it could possibly be is that we will have our first kid in March. This means that I am in-between doctors right now, but am in the process of finding one here in Japan. It is possible that I may decide to give birth at the "Aqua Birth House" here in Tokyo. I will be going to visit it and check it out on December 1st. Until then, I have joined an email list-serv that includes other foreign women giving birth here. They are most helpful with questions that I have about where to start. I should be having lunch with some of them near the end of the month.

This seems to be the most exciting time of our lives. We plan on enjoying it. We are trying to learn some Japanese, try new foods (I started eating bananas), and expand our world-view. Of course, we miss our friends back in the United States, but also invite you to visit. Please email us and/or give us a call (we still have a Virginia phone number thru Vonage).

Angela and Dan - Anniversary 2004