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!"