Tokyo 2.5 – Rainy Days and Mondays and Closed Museums Always Get Me Down

It’s Tuesday, November 14 and we’ve had many adventures since my last post.  We are way busier this time with social and professional engagements which really cuts into my blog time!   Besides friends and work, we are exploring more restaurants and bought a Grutto Pass, which is a booklet full of entry and discount tickets for museums all over the Greater Tokyo area.  It cost us just under $20 and since most museums are $3.00 to $8.00 it’s a great deal if you actually make it to enough places.  We are trying to cram in all the ones we want to see, but so far four places have been closed inexplicably on “open” days or for renovations.  We tried one yesterday that was supposedly open on Mondays, but nope.  We began our Grutto quest in the Ueno Park area October 25 for the Shitamachi Museum that shows how craftsmen, merchants, and fishermen lived in old Tokyo known as Edo.  We posted a few pictures and short video clips of Ueno on Facebook while we were there.  Ueno has many amazing museums, a zoo, an amphitheater, shrines, statues, fountains and a gorgeous pond filled with lotus.  We stumbled upon a dahlia exhibit at one of the shrines and you’ll see how expertly they grow them below.   Flowers grown so perfectly they look like drawings, if you ask me, and VERY tall examples were our favs, but we also loved how they protected them from the rain with individual umbrellas.  We’ve visited the Printing Museum, which covers both east and west printing techniques, Showa Kan, the museum which shows how Japan lived post war including devastation and grief and the Nakagawa Funabansho Museum, which showcases what life was like on the river in old Edo. (Without a word of English to be found within the museum walls, I might add!)  There are three large pictures below of Ueno and then the collage contains:  shrine pics, statues, toris (gates for Shinto shrines), a stone lantern that has inspired me to look for one for our yard once we are home because I really like them, dahlias, a pagoda, a golden gate, the VERY moving Peace monument eternal flame from a burning house in Hiroshima (please try to read the plaque in the picture), and Ueno ends with a picture of fish that were for sale at a festival on the park grounds that day.   I’ll explain the rest of the pics below.

The almost three weeks straight of rain, including two typhoons in October, didn’t really get us down as the title says, but you do get to a point where you’d like to not have to prepare so much for a full day out with all weather possibilities and heavy backpacks to carry around unneeded things throughout certain periods of the day.   We just adore sightseeing and I feel like a professional tour guide as it is my job to make sure I plan our days off, know important info (like closed museums – argh!), which trains to take, etc.  We make a total full day of it and with some transit rides up to an hour you WILL be gone all day and must have what you need with you.

Besides Ueno, our recent adventures have taken us to Kyoto and Nara where we stayed with our friends, Toru and Chieko Miura.   Toru was one of the founding members of Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra and is a famous euphonium player in Japan.  I’d post a picture of them, but there are a few days that aren’t uploading from my iPhone to my laptop for some reason.  Grrr.   Toru studied at Eastman and in Mississippi during his younger days.  He was instrumental in making the joint ABA and JBA convention, where Terry served as President, a success.  Terry and Toru had to communicate a great deal over the span of 2 years to make the ABA-JBA convention happen.   You make lifelong friends that way.  Toru and Chieko were amazing hosts and spoiled us rotten with an amazing kobe steak and lobster teppanyaki style dinner in addition to driving us all around historic spots in Kyoto and Nara.  We posted pictures of The Golden Pavilion at the Rokuon -Ji Temple and the Great Buddha Hall at Todaiji Temple on Facebook (a few below as well), but we also experienced the free roaming deer in the Nara Park, the Toshodaiji Temple, Daikaku-ji Temple and the Toei Kyoto Studio Park, which is where many samurai shows and movies are made.   They built a huge set years ago for something and decided to continue using it for shows and movies and by turning it into a theme park.  That’s the selfie below in the collage.  And yes, I just learned that you can’t add too many pictures at a time or they will all be locked in a collage if you press the wrong button.   Oh well.   Time crunch.   By the way, deer in Nara Park are protected and roam freely.   They are considered a natural treasure and roam on the grounds of Todai-ji, Kofuko-ji and Kasuga Shrine.  They sell what they call deer cookies on site so you can feed them.   The Kyoto/Nara pictures begin right after the fish arrangement.

There was a wedding at one of the temples and I snapped a few pictures of that beautiful event.  One is of just the bride and groom and one is them overlooking the lake.   The picture beside the close up of the wedding couple is from the studio theme park and the selfie and picture beside it are both from there as well.  Then there are:  two shots of dinner, the small garden just outside the tub room at the Miura’s, deer, Terry at the river museum, the Tokyo 2020 sign we’ve seen ALL over Tokyo, the Memorial for those who lost their lives in the WWII bombings in the Sumo area of Tokyo (hopefully more on that later in another blog), the lovely entry way at the Miura’s, shrines and temples.   SO sorry all these pics are clumped together, but it would take me forever to undo it.  IMG_2365

IMG_2374

IMG_2378

 

My pictures of the Great Buddha Hall were some of the ones that didn’t get on my laptop.   I mentioned we had some professional things happening.   Former Musashino student and our Kawagoe tour guide, Tomoko Kawaguchi, invited Terry to work with her band last Sunday evening.   She works at a high school in the country, but lives in Kawagoe.   It is an hour drive for her each morning to get to school and we loved seeing a new part of Japan.  The students were amazing.  We entered the room and there was a young man in a suit working with the band.  Unbeknownst to us, he was a student, but we thought he was the assistant director.   He formally greeted us and then the band commenced to perform Armenian Dances by Alfred Reed as a chamber group – meaning NO conductor.   They maneuvered all difficult tempo changes flawlessly and we learned they had only worked on the piece for three weeks with one of those weeks having many students in the U.S. on a field trip!   Band rehearses everyday after school for 3.5 hours.   Terry enjoyed working with them and at the end they made a special presentation where they stood and sang.   I had tears flowing, of course, and then lost it completely when in the last verse they began doing sign language.   It made me miss my students so much.  Those pictures did not upload either for some reason.    I am on my way to being an award winning blogger, I’m sure.  As we were leaving, the students lined the parking lot and waved to us as we departed.   Such a special memory.

The following day, we traveled outside of Tokyo for Terry to work with another band at the Christian Academy in Japan.   Instead of watching Terry work, I ended up in the choral classroom and got to teach some of my fav warm-ups as a guest director!   I had a ball and we even got to stay after school for a bit to watch some of their rehearsal for CINDERELLA.   I was so happy.

I do need to back up and tell you about Halloween.   First of all, the specially packaged products, desserts, etc. for the holiday are just like at home, but the scary factor is not so evident.  Everything seems to be orange and black for a few weeks and then it’s gone and Merry Christmas decor is up and Christmas music is playing everywhere all day long.   Anyway, one of the grad students in the wind ensemble, Erika, was in Terry’s band last time.   She is an amazing cook and offered to come to our apartment and make dinner for us.   It turned into a party with Chef Erika (pictured below in Terry’s new chef coat), Teruko (band manager and pictured wearing my 100 yen cat costume ears that I used to deliver treats to the band), the band inspectors and concert mistress and last but not least, Nanako, the other grad student in the band who also was in Terry’s band four years ago.   Erika showed up with EVERYTHING for the party – paper products, all food and beverages, dish soap and new rags, decor and even trash bags!   You can see the students doing all the decorations and they even did all the clean up.   The food was delicious and we are hoping Erika will come and cook for us again!   She did offer.  The band members just enjoy each other’s company and were so kind and helpful.   These aren’t great pics (shocker), but they give you an idea of our evening.

The last thing I’ll tell you about is the Muse Festival.   This was October 26 – 29, so I’m really working backwards in this blog, and is an all student run festival that fundraises for school clubs.   The students begin working on it in August to choose themes and plan and once October hits, they hold daily rehearsals for everything from solo performances to full on marching band and concert orchestra.   The dance club performs  lip synch, hip hop and sometimes traditional dances.   The Japanese traditional music ensemble performs.   It’s a wonderful weekend of performances, but our favorite part is visiting each booth where the students prepare and cook certain items.   Alcohol is served from 5 – 7:30 p.m. only and there is a fanfare played to announce that it’s time for legal drinking to begin.  It is such a fun event, but unfortunately a typhoon caused an early shut down of the food booths.   Costumes are involved in some of the performances and you can see the Minion antiphonal brass below.   I mostly took video, which I can’t post here.   Once again, Blogger of the Year.  You can also see the calm before the storm.   Everything was set up the evening before. They even have a tea ceremony and the students participating do flower arrangements.   Our former band manager and dear friend, Wataru, spent some time with us one evening which was so fun.

It’s hard to believe we have just a few days left here.   Terry has begun holding sectionals  and the December 4 concert will be here before we know it.  For now, we are enjoying our life in Japan and can NOT wait until Friday comes when our dearest friends, Dennis and Carol Zeisler, come to visit!   I will be journeying out to Narita airport to pick them up via public transit and we will be coming to Tokyo during rush hour.   Should be an interesting ride.  Ja mata.

Advertisements
Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tokyo 2.4 – Raindrops on Rain Pants and Whiskers (not) on Terry

It has been raining for about a week because it is still typhoon season.  Just like our hurricane season at home, typhoons are named and are actually called a typhoon due only to its location in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. The same kind of storm is called a hurricane in the Atlantic and northeastern Pacific or a cyclone in the south Pacific or Indian Ocean.   Yes, I googled because I wasn’t sure exactly where the line was drawn geographically for the terminology.

Before the rain began, the weather was like summer or spring and then BOOM!  Chilly and wet.  We knew the rainy season was going to hit soon and that’s why we raced to the beach on the last forecasted hot day almost two weeks ago.  After the close to two hour train ride, we ended up south of the town of Kamakura in Zushi. Check it out on a map.  There were lots of wind surfers and the beach was nearly deserted upon our afternoon arrival except for a few walkers.

We stayed until it began to get dark, which is SUPER early here.   No Daylight Savings Time.  We hear they tried it years ago, but tossed it after a few attempts.

Tracia’s Happy Place:

IMG_2232

IMG_2222

Moving on to the inspiration for the title of this blog, so let’s discuss the importance of being earnest in packing and wearing your rain pants.

We learned last time (the hard way) that rain pants are our best friends.  We had NO idea we needed them and ended up purchasing quasi water resistant pants for all of us four years ago.  When you have to ride a bike or walk for a long time in the pouring rain and it’s chilly and the wind is blowing it into your face, you quickly realize the importance of rain pants and waterproof, well, everything.   We have warm raincoats with removable liners in case it is hot weather, rain pants, waterproof gloves and boots and ALL of them are needed once the temperature drops.   Last time I only had nice leather gloves, but they didn’t cut it and I had to buy quasi water resistant gloves so that my hands didn’t freeze when riding in the rain.   We made sure we took care of all of our waterproof needs at the Columbia and North Face outlets this past July 4 during a super sale.

Terry has a hat and I am usually happy just using my hood, but have seen some of the moms riding bikes with super handy visors that sort of act as windshields.   I decided to try one out from the 100 yen store and boy, it is a lifesaver.   I don’t really care what I look like.  I love it. Now, I can see and ride my bike or walk in the rain and be more comfy with my new visor and my hood.  Note:  We also have waterproof backpacks and we looked and looked for one that was tall enough to fit Terry’s scores in for rehearsal.  Thank you, TJMaxx in NYC for the random and awesome find.

Speaking of riding bikes, this goes under the “I Had Forgotten” category.   Each store or station or building has its own bike parking lot.   So needed and handy and we love it when they are free.   Sometimes they aren’t and cost 100 Yen or possibly more, but we haven’t ever paid more.  Here’s part of Musashino’s new lot.   They took the garden (backyard) of the guest house on the left owned by the school where visiting guest artists live, or used to live in this case.   We hear it is now being used as storage as it is almost directly across the street from the school.

IMG_2136

During rainy weather, everything gets a raincoat.   Backpacks have special rain covers, store displays, children’s bike seats (see the covers below?), shopping bags get covered, etc.  Oh, and me!

IMG_2282

IMG_2274

IMG_2270

IMG_2273

You all know what a terrible photographer I am and I was walking when I took this picture.

One of the things Terry was looking forward to doing when we came back to Japan was heading to the barber.   They do a cut and a shave for each visit normally and there are TONS of barbers and hair places.   I Had Forgotten … the interesting names of hair salons and the usage of English in so many of the business names here:   Hair Beast, Hair Douce, Hair Dream, Grass Hair not to be outdone by Forest just down the street, Hair Salon Up and my personal fav, Lix for Hair.   Not even kidding.  Anyway, at the barber, they cut Terry’s hair with scissors instead of just using the clippers.   Then they shave him with a straight razor just like in all the westerns and turn of the century movies you see.   (So, he gets a shave and a haircut … bump, bump.   Did you sing that in your head?)  They do everything meticulously and Terry just loves it.

IMG_2181.JPG

I posted that picture on Facebook, but it’s worth a repeat in the blog.   Speaking of blog, so sorry I’ve been so lax about it this time.   We are just enjoying life here, getting things done and as the weather is turning colder we will most likely be indoors more.   We’ve tried to max out good sightseeing time while we had good weather.   I have so much more to share and hope to do so soon.

Ja mata!

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Tokyo 2.3 Parties and ‘Partments 10/6/17

It’s hard to believe we’ve been in Japan over 2 weeks now.  We finally have the apartment organized just like we like it, know how to get around our new area and fav places again and have stocked the kitchen after multiple visits to many grocery and 100 yen stores and Costco!  We feel like it’s home once again.

Tuesday night after rehearsal was the traditional Welcome Party.   This is a dinner party planned and in a restaurant chosen by the Inspectors of the Wind Ensemble.  (The Inspectors are the leaders of the band and from a variety of instrument sections.)  We eat and then each section from the band comes to our table and visits with us a little bit.   What this actually means is that they sit with us, giggle a bit and do not say anything until we initiate conversation.   We try our best to be understood and make conversation with them and they try their best while usually one takes the lead to communicate with us and then quasi translates for their group.   Teruko, the Band Manager, sits with us and translates as much as possible in the beginning but eventually disappears to enjoy herself as she should since she works so very hard.  She isn’t 100% fluent either.  Terry and I have our set questions and comments for each group and it is wonderful way to get to know them a little better.  It gives them individual time to communicate with us, try their English and feel like they’ve participated.  Sometimes one person in the section comes ready with translated questions from a phone app and it is a very nice time where we are amazed at how truly sweet every single student is.  It is a wonderful culture.   They all seem happy and are smiling at the party and there’s no drama, making fun of anyone and no one is off sulking in the corner.   It’s just good clean fun.  Here’s our meal:

IMG_2137

See the white rolled up towel in a plastic bag next to the upside down glass?   It’s wet and should be used to wash your hands.  That’s what you get at every meal in some form.   The plate with fries, fried spicy shrimp (fried with the shell and tail still on it), fried chicken and edamame is for the group at our end of the table.   We each had our own box with a cup of potato salad, a small piece of Japanese omelet that’s actually sweet, chicken and onion skewer, fried tofu with sesame and a yummy whole squid!   Let me get you a better picture of that.

 

IMG_2138

Yep, squid.  I ate everything but the squid.  Never been a fan.  You can also see the appetizer of raw shrimp complete with eyes and antennae plus two kinds of sashimi on the small white plate.   I’m not a huge fan of sashimi or sushi, but do eat it while here.  We kept eating and eating and then they brought out the entree!   This goes under my first heading of “I Had Forgotten … ” that appetizers seem like an entire meal at a special Japanese dinner!  We’ve accidentally stuffed ourselves before the entree at other dinners last time and we were stuffed by the time the entree was served this time.  Oops.  Luckily, Japanese desserts are not usually huge and this was no different.   It was just a sort of chocolate sponge roll kind of thing.   Then the karaoke began and one of the students entertained us with a perfect rendition of some famous Japanese song that everyone knew and sang along.   He knew every single word and dance move and totally went for it.  It was hysterical.  I shot video of him, but can’t upload it unless I pay money for an upgraded version of wordpress.   Sorry!

Let’s back up a day and show you our Costco success in a jar.   The prices of food that we are used to buying at home are very high here if they even have them. It is incredibly expensive and difficult to eat a regular American diet or cook the way we normally do at home and why would we even want to do that anyway?  Answer:   We don’t.  We try our best to cook Japanese, but we simply don’t know how to do many things. Each week we learn more and get better.  We have several Japanese cookbooks in the apartment that have been brought over by a multitude of guest conductors’ wives.  In addition, I’ve already told you we have great difficulty in knowing what to purchase in the grocery store.  Costco is a huge help.  It gives us a few things to eat like “normal” plus we save an incredible amount of money.  We took an 1.5 hour train ride with large rolling suitcases and went on a Costco adventure Monday.   It was so easy and is in an area called LaLaCity in Saitama right by the train station attached to a huge mall.   We are so very happy we have figured out how to go to Costco anytime we need it and don’t have to get help from anyone else in terms of transportation.   Even with train costs, shopping at Costco saved us tons.  The small (tiny) jar was purchased our first night here when we found brats in the store and were slightly delirious.   It was 358 yen. Ridiculous.  (Just think $3.58 – that’s close enough to accurate.)  The large jar from Costco was just a little over twice the cost of the tiny one, but 865 grams versus 10.2 grams.   We also bought more brats at Costco.   You know, to use up all the mustard!   Terry actually likes to put it on his sandwiches, too, so it won’t be wasted I am sure.

IMG_2171.JPG

Let’ s move on the ‘Partment part.   I know, I know.  Cheesy.  I like to come up with clever titles for the blog with alliterations and was honestly stretching it a bit.   Here are a few pics of our new digs!

The living room where the coffee table has turned into Tracia’s office and an upside down basket becomes an end table.   Note:   Terry’s concert poster decorates our lamp shade.  Vase greenery provided by Tracia who took it from a freshly clipped hedge in the Ikebukuro area where the workers accidentally left one of the trimmings.

IMG_2132

The dining area just behind the couch.   Clothesline on balcony and tea cart to the left.  Door goes to hallway and kitchen entrance is right beside the tea cart.

IMG_2133

The kitchen:

IMG_2127

Note:  The recycling chart on the fridge.  Small room is the laundry area.IMG_2126

 

IMG_2128

The laundry room.  Note:   The powder blue trashcan and the special plastic hangers that everyone uses when doing laundry.  IMG_2130.JPGIMG_2131

There’s actually a lint catcher that you must empty in the washer and the lint catcher in the dryer is a large plastic circle in the back that you detach and clean out.  Maybe stackables are like this in the U.S., but I’ve never used one so I really don’t know!

IMG_2129

The studio/music room.   The entire right side of the shelves is loaded with presents.   Japan is a huge gift giving culture, so we have a present for everyone we will come in contact with including the almost 60 member Wind Ensemble, the President of Musashino, office workers, the entire Performance Department, friends and people we have yet to meet.   I like to do a VCU theme, thus the yellow bags and VCU stickers.   Can’t do black bags as that represents death.  You can see the foyer to the right where we store our shoes.   You don’t wear shoes in Japanese homes.

IMG_2134

Note:   Our major workout area consists of two beach towels from home since we haven’t found yoga mats yet and leftover dumbbells from a guest conductor over a decade ago.  We are also walking an average of 10,000 steps a day and riding bikes all over.  IMG_2135.JPG

The sink room.IMG_2124

The shower room.   Note:   The level of the mirror is designed so that you sit on the stool and use the bucket to pour water over yourself.  IMG_2125

I’ll save the toilet rooms for a special blog that I really wanted to write last time, but never did.  🙂   Ja mata!   (See you!)

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I HAD FORGOTTEN … Tokyo 2.2/Full Day 7 First official blog in Japan 9/26/2017

Ohayo gozaimasu!   (Good Morning!)   It’s 10 a.m. Tuesday morning our time and 9 p.m. Monday evening back home.   That makes it 13 hours ahead here.   The Austins are officially tri-continental with Seth at Lee U. in TN and Josh at Oxford, England.   Seth is in the same time zone as home and Josh was 5 hours ahead when we left, so now he’s 8 hours behind.   It’s complicated when someone needs an answer immediately.

We have been here a week now and only woke up once last night. I think it’s fair to say we are almost recovered from jet lag.   We are still toast beginning around 8:30 p.m. and fight to stay awake until 9:30 or so, but we haven’t felt groggy during the day and aren’t waking up 3 times a night.   Improvement!

PLEASE NOTE: I found last time I had SO much to share that was interesting in our opinions and it takes a long time to write about it.   I don’t want to spend all of my time blogging, but do want to share. I try my best, but I will make mistakes in my writing and hope you will forgive me.   I’d rather get the info out there before I forget and not worry about errors.

Our new apartment is FABULOUS.   We are in a building with many units, but it is only the Austins and one other occupant in the Musashino Senkawa Guest House.   Unfortunately for John, our neighbor we’ve never met, we are directly above him.   I’ve worried our changing time zones schedule has bothered or been noisy as we have been super early risers this week.   We have moved to the Senkawa section of town and it feels more urban. We are within a few blocks of the Senkawa subway station and there are several grocery stores within minutes.   Those two things are much easier than our last apartment.   I miss the Kindergarten right outside my window, though, and the traffic noise is tremendous here since the road along our bedroom window is a definite two lane road.   These are somewhat unusual in residential areas.   Our old apartment was very, very quiet and extremely residential. They are retiring our old apartment building in Sakuradai slowly but surely, so this new apartment will officially be the guest conductor’s each semester.   This is terrific news in that we no longer have to move the conductor’s boxes back and forth.   They contained things that each different conductor wants, needs or purchased while here.   It’s more like a vacation rental now where you just dig through the cabinets and find what you need that was left by the previous conductor, set up what you want and it eliminates double purchases and wastefulness.   The boxes had guidebooks, special kitchen items, sewing kit, birthday candles, cleaning supplies, etc. and all were extremely helpful to the new conductor.

Since this is my first official post of our 2017 stay and we have had a whirlwind week, I thought I would just list the things I had forgotten about living in Japan.   Most are good, but as in all of life, some are bad.   ALL are different from home.

I HAD FORGOTTEN … :

1) The confusion of working things in the apartment because we can’t read Kanji, Hiragana or Katakana instructions – the TV remote, the toaster oven, the oven, the AC, the hot water heater, etc., etc., etc.   We usually figure it out, but sometimes we must ask for help.

2) The toilets.   OH, the toilets.   Figuring them out. (An entire blog could happen.)

3) Speaking of toilets, the shower rooms and how there’s a tub and a shower all in one separate room in bathrooms and you aren’t supposed to stand in the tub when you take a shower even though it’s right there.   It’s for baths. There’s a huge drain in the floor and there’s a hand held shower that’s mounted and can be directed both in the shower room or the tub if you want to sneak a shower while standing in the tub.

4) How confusing the streets are.

5) The “follow the yellow brick road” tiles on the sidewalks that lead you to a train station which is such a clever and helpful thing for visitors.

6) There are special music themes for on and off the subway and trains.

7) How amazingly easy and well marked the train and subway systems are.

8) That powder blue is the preferred color for trashcans along with navy blue netting covers for when you set out trash and recycling on the street.   These offer bird protection.   I did see one green one yesterday.

9) The massive recycling in an organized schedule.   Our recycling guide was delivered in the mail 2 days ago and it is a 28 page booklet!

10) The packaging, oh, the packaging.   The amount of packaging involved in prepping every single meal is staggering. Everything is wrapped like a present and for example within a box of crackers is separate packaging for a few crackers as if you’re packing a lunch.   This isn’t a special lunch size packages purchase, though, like at home.   This is just a regular box of crackers.   It keeps things fresher, but the amount of trash and recycling for each meal is quite a lot.

11) The use of money trays for purchases.   You are supposed to put your cash or card on the tray and that’s where they place your change or card after your purchase.

12) How many people do NOT take credit cards.   i.e. The fare adjustment machines for the trains and many restaurants.

13) The joy of a 100 Yen store.   They are WAY better than any Dollar Tree and the stuff is nicer.

14) The joy of Sumo tournaments on TV!

15) That the weather people on the news use a huge pointer when doing their segment. The one I keep seeing has a huge red ball on the end of it.

16) The exuberance of ALL TV hosts when they try food.   ANY food.   It’s the very best thing they’ve ever tasted in their lives.   Apparently.

17) The difficulty in finding what you forgot or couldn’t fit in your suitcase to come for almost 3 months – a blender, a yoga mat,  HP printer cartridge for the conductor’s printer that’s been around for a while, twin sheets (!).

18) How difficult it is to get acclimated and do simple things like make a decent cup of coffee.   It takes a few days to figure it out with the new and unfamiliar equipment, the metric system and then sometimes you realize you’ve just gotten the wrong product but you use it up anyway to not be wasteful. Meanwhile, it’s bad.

19) How incredibly hungry you get during the jetlag phase.   Starving.   We finally felt full with last night’s German food dinner for the first time and we’ve been here a week!   Some of it is the fact that days and nights are flipped and some of it is portion size because everything is way smaller here in terms of packaging. Or, it could be that we just don’t buy much at first because it’s so confusing in the grocery store where we really can’t tell what anything is because we can’t read Kanji.   (There’s an entire blog in a grocery store visit as well.)

20) How expensive some things are and yet …

21) How cheap some things are and that is truly enjoyable!

22) How we tall people bump our heads on almost all of the cabinets – especially Terry.

23) The almost scary but yet humbling amount of respect we get when walking the halls of Musashino where people literally race to get out of your way and bow.

24) The amazing and professional stage deportment and presence taught at Musashino exhibited by all.

25) The humility, civility and gentle kindness of the people of Japan.   It’s such a nice change from home where everyone is right in their opinion and shouting about it or trying to school you in how wrong you are in a false polite, but poor you kind of way. You know, the social media arguments and how they seem to thrill people these days. Facebook is a lifeline while we are here and it’s sad that I feel I can barely use it to keep up with what’s happening at home. I will be posting there, but I actually have never been much of a Facebook person – especially now with the obvious lack of civility since pre-election. I don’t miss the American Hollywood/sports cult of celebrity and its permeation of the news either.   I know Japan has fandom, but I can’t understand what they are saying so it doesn’t bother me.

26) The tyranny of jetlag and its hold over your life.   I think I’ll write a pamphlet called The Tyranny of Jetlag.   Full Day 2 was the worst for us where it just seemed like we were walking around in a fog.

Today is Terry’s first official rehearsal with the Wind Ensemble. We have met a few of the students while attending the student recitals and we look forward to meeting them all today.

Ja mata!   (Basically, “see you later then” or close enough to that. I don’t really speak Japanese, but wish I did! )

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Back to Japan – Fall 2017

We are just one month and a day away from our departure for our second time in Japan.   Terry has been invited back to teach the fall semester at the Musashino Academy of Music.   We leave Monday, September 18 and return Thursday, December 7.   We will be living in a different area of town, so we will have lots of new places to explore (get lost in at first) and enjoy.   I hope to blog again since I won’t have a job, or 4 jobs, so #watchthisspace.

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Japan #38 – The Gunma Concert

It is two days after the Tokyo Opera City concert – the last concert during our time here.   Terry still has rehearsals as they will record four of the pieces from the concert tomorrow.  We are all tired, but happy.   The concert night was a great evening and one that will be counted as one of the best in the Austin Family history book.    The students played their hearts out on that stage and it was beautiful to witness.  It is difficult to describe the professionalism and teamwork of the Musashino students and I fear words fail me in accurately painting the picture for you.   Musashino works very hard on stage deportment and discipline and it shows.

It is so hard to believe it has been almost 3 months.   With concerts and Christmas and packing and last minute sightseeing, my blogging time is limited.  There are still so many things I want to say and show you, but I fear time is not on my side.  I will attempt to fit in the highlights from now until Christmas Day.

I will back up to Saturday, the 14th and tell you a bit about the Christmas party we attended.   Ian and Nobuko had a party for his first year English students and they invited us to come.  I think it’s something they do each year and the love they have for the students was so apparent.   It was a wonderful evening (again, one of the best meals we’ve had!) of fun, food and fellowship.   The McMickings are master party planners in that the schedule of the evening kept things rolling.   Ian let us know that the boys must come with 200 yen in their pockets and I knew it was going to be something good.   It turned out that the beginning of the party was a massive Rock, Paper, Scissors contest with the winners getting 100 yen from the losers.   By the end, Josh was the big winner and took home 1400 yen!   The other big contest was a massive Bingo game with each person putting 100 yen in a singing Christmas mug.   Ian sweetened the deal with an extra 1,000 yen (remember to just move the decimal over 2, so that’s $10) in the cup.   The McMickings had wrapped many presents as prizes as well as the money cup.   Lo and behold, Seth won Bingo and chose the money!   Each consecutive winner would choose a mystery present and at the end we all opened our gifts.   They were all nice things from the McMickings travels, etc. and we Austins got a haul of good items. See the party pic below.   Seth is particularly happy to be holding Paddington Bear.  Nobuko not pictured in the group, so I grabbed a shot of this master chef!

Image

Image

Touring to Gunma last Sunday for the first concert.   Rode these bright and early:

Image

Look what we saw on the way there!

Image

Working to get the stage ready …

Image

Image

The Gunma Concert Hall:

Image

Rehearsal:

Image

The flute section:

Image

More on the Tokyo concert later.   Just ran out of writing time – sorry!   Must head to a special dinner!

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Japan #37 – Dinner Parties, Clear Days and Some Yoga

Last night we hosted a dinner party and I made a new friend, Roger Bobo.  We also enjoyed the company of fellow 3rd floor apartment dweller, who is now our good friend, Ian.   Having guests over for dinner is somewhat of a challenge since we have minimal dishes and cutlery and we only have a table for four.   That said, we made it work.  Terry and the boys had met Roger Bobo, world famous tubist, at Tipness just a few days ago.  We have always wanted to have Ian and Nobuko over, too, but unfortunately Nobuko couldn’t make it last night. 

Roger with Terry (Note:  Austin Tokyo apartment wall decor = Maps)

Image

The Americans who work at Musashino (all two of them!) should really stick together, but Terry had never had the opportunity to meet Roger or any other faculty member except in passing due to everyone’s schedule being so different.  Terry and I have missed entertaining and were really looking forward to having both Roger and Ian over for dinner.   With only 2 burners and a fish broiler, your menu choices are somewhat limited.  

Our stove the first day we got here and before I spring cleaned it … see why we ate Thanksgiving dinner out?

Image

Spaghetti and salad did the trick and once again, thank the Lord for our Costco trip.   We got the sauce from there (you know the 3 jar pack) and doctored it up with onions and meat.   Salad is very easy here since we shop almost everyday and everything is super fresh.   We even got bread from a bakery and ate like Americans.   Ian is Australian, but he did just fine.   He wanted a picture with the boys and by the way, this is our living room…

Image

 

Love that picture!   AND our 100 Yen Christmas tree with 100 Yen ornaments and homemade star …

Image

 

I know what you’re thinking – Charlie Brown Christmas tree, but we are enjoying it.   I thought I might use all of my earrings as ornaments, but haven’t done it yet.   We had a wonderful time and wish we had more days to have another dinner party.   Alas, our days are numbered here.   Only 12 left.   Two of them are concert days, one is Christmas Eve, 5 more rehearsals including recording sessions, one is our travel day, two dinner invites to other houses and one is the Emperor’s Birthday when I believe many, if not all, museums and things are closed.   We still need to get to the Sumo Museum, but it’s only open M-F which has been impossible for Terry’s schedule.   Monday, hopefully!

Yesterday, we went to the Nerima City Office building which has an observatory on the 20th floor.   It was a beautiful, clear morning so we hurried downtown.  

Image

 

Everything, businesses and cities included, seems to have a mascot that is cute and cartoony.   I’m assuming this is Nerima’s mascot.

Image

Clear days and views of Mt. Fuji are hard to catch we hear.   Seeing Mt. Fuji is what every tourist wants to do.   Our clearest view was our day at Disneyland from the morning train.   It was so big and clear we weren’t even sure what we were seeing!   We just stood in awe and forgot to take a picture, but imagine a huge, snowcapped mountain with clear blue all behind it and that’s what we saw that day.  Yesterday, we saw great sights, albeit not as clear, and here are several of our views:

Fuji with zoom!

Image

 

More mountains in the background.

Image

 

Have no idea what the tall white tower on the left is or the giant swing set looking thing bottom right …

Image

 

Fuji without zoom.

Image

 

Skytree just right of center.   Reflection from the glass due to the sun’s position – sorry.

Image 

Another bad picture due to the sun, but isn’t it overwhelming to see the size of this metropolitan area?  Skytree on left.

Image

 

Nerima and beyond.

 

Image

 

There is a restaurant on the 20th floor that looks pretty good and the view would be terrific, of course.   Maybe next time … if there is a next time.  I’ve told you of the plastic food displays for menu choices.   Here is a typical one from the observatory restaurant:

Image

 

I’m not going to lie.   I’m going to miss these displays.   They are just plain fun to look at everywhere we go.

Today, I got to attend a yoga class with my friend from church, Sachiko.   I have never done a yoga class before and I got there earlier than she did.   Eight people were lined up along the right side of the wall waiting.   Since I didn’t know anyone, I went and leaned on the LEFT side of the wall away from the group and one of the waiting ladies would not have that.   She motioned for me to stand on the right side beside her, so I moved.   Each time a new person would come, they would add to the end of the line that eventually went down the steps.   I kept popping my head around the corner to peer down the steps to see if the new person was Sachiko.   Finally, she came and walked up to me and I quickly asked why we were in a line.   She told me so many people took the class that they always line up in order to get the spot they want.   I decided to go down to where she had to wait and by that time, people were lining both sides of the steps.   Apparently once the line gets to a certain point, you start a new one on the left side.   That’s why I was in the wrong at the beginning.   The nice lady didn’t want me to have to wait so long for a good spot when I had gotten there so early.   Having never done yoga before, my “good” spot was going to be in the back!   However, those are the spots that filled in first.   I did get a clear view of myself in the mirror, though.  The class was wonderful.  I LOVED it and I was almost the youngest person in the class.   I didn’t understand a thing the teacher said, but I watched in the mirrors and did the class with ease.  I might have to break my cardinal rule upon our return and join a gym.   I know the boys want to since they have really enjoyed Tipness.   

Our views of Mt. Fuji have been numerous this week.   I will close this blog with a few from the front of our apartment.   Enjoy!

Image

 

Image

Image

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Japan #36 – Obstinate Bread and Gifts

With all of the fish market and sushi pictures yesterday, I failed to post a picture of our last sectional meal with the trumpets.   They took us to a really hip, American-like, beach-themed restaurant called Peace.  It had a spaghetti special and a sandwich special.   Since spaghetti was the first one they mentioned, I thought they were suggesting it and said that’d be fine for my order.   However, when all the orders came out I was the only one who had gotten it.   There had been much discussion about what came with the spaghetti plate.     Hands down the funniest translation issue thus far happened when they were telling me all that was included in the lunch special.   They were at a loss in describing something to me (they got salad just fine) and used their translator app. When they showed it to me it said, “Obstinate bread” which we took to mean hard on the outside/soft on the inside Italian bread. Obstinate or not, it was really good!   Below is our lunch pic with the trumpets.   The lady leaning down on the left is Mana, one of the Head Inspectors of the wind ensemble.   She’s the one who planned the welcome party and was the waitress at the Italian restaurant.   In addition, Mana and 4 other band members successfully auditioned and won a place in the Army Band.   Five new members in the Army Band in one year is HUGE!   We are so proud of them.

This was a delightful time with all of the students trying their best to speak with us.   We asked certain questions at each meal:

1.   What part of Japan are you from originally?  2. Is anyone else in your family musical?   3.   Do you have brothers or sisters?  4.   What will you be doing next year or what do you want to do in the future?   5.   Have you ever been to the U.S. and where have you traveled other than Japan?   The answers are always interesting and as varied as they would be if Terry asked the same questions of his VCU students.

Image

I mentioned in a an earlier blog that I would explain a bit about gift giving here.  Because of this gift giving culture, it is customary for all guest conductors to bring a gift to anyone involved with the wind ensemble, including each of the 60 members, support staff and the upper administration of Musashino.   In addition, we needed to bring gifts for people who might help us in any way or invite us to a meal during our stay.  We even brought along a few small extras for unexpected situations, too.  Therefore, we brought a multitude of gifts and had to store them in the apartment until the appropriate time of presentation.    They were spread out over 8 different suitcases on the way here.  I thought it would be fun to make a display in the music room’s (a.k.a. Josh’s bedroom) bookshelf.

Image

It is customary to give gifts from your university or home state.   We like to give Virginia peanuts anyway, so that was a perfect gift to bring people.   We will not be returning with anything pictured in the above bookshelf which allows for room in our luggage.  Hooray!

We have already received a few gifts ourselves and are currently enjoying the gift below.   I didn’t snap the picture before Josh got a hold of the box.   We were thrilled to get this gift!

Image

You might wonder why we would be so excited about a box of apples that I would share a picture of it on this blog declaring it to be a wonderful gift.   Let me tell you, it’s an AMAZING gift being that one apple of this size can cost up to $3.00 here!   They are delicious, too, especially since we have not had many apples or fruit at all in 3 months.   Fruit in general is VERY expensive and is a favorite to serve for dessert.   A cantaloupe or honeydew melon is around $9.00 each, grapes are ridiculously expensive with the cheapest we’ve seen being around $5.00 for one bunch (I mean a stem) and you can see the price of strawberries below.  One yen is basically the equivalent to a penny, so move the decimal over 2 and you have the U.S. price.

Image

Blurry picture, but yes, that’s 15 strawberries for $9.80.   Needless to say, we haven’t bought strawberries at all.  There are SO many pictures I want to take in stores or at stands to share the sights with you, but it would be rude of me.   We were just walking down the street and I caught this one on the fly and thus, the blurriness.

This will be a rather quiet week for us as Terry has rehearsals every day, the boys prep for exams and try to finish up school before the holidays.  We must leave super early on Sunday for the first concert, so we are using this time to begin packing.   Hard to believe we will be home 2 weeks!

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Japan #35 – Shopping, Sumida, Sushi and Swords

We had the last of our sectional lunches this week – percussion on Tuesday and trumpets on Friday.   The percussionists wanted to take us to a very Japanese meal.   We let them decide what to order for us and they chose the special set meal which had miso soup, rice with Japanese vegetables (which was more Japanese, they said), sauté chicken and tofu.   There was much discussion between them as to whether we should just get plain white rice instead.   We insisted we would rather try it the Japanese way.   When the meal came, it was white rice with the teeny tiniest bit of pickled daikon in one part of the bowl with the rice.   About the size of a dime… or less.  It is so cute they cared so much about such a tiny bit.  The students revere their teachers here and since Terry comes as a package deal during these meals, we get the benefit of being lumped in with that sentiment.   While I was sitting at lunch and looking around the restaurant, I noticed pictures on the wall of the man who was obviously the chef of the 20 seat restaurant.   In the pictures, he was sitting at a piano and a lady, who was also in the restaurant in the cooking area, was holding a mic and singing.   I then really looked around the place and saw that many of the items that were decorations were musically themed.   Once we had all finished eating, we were communicating with the chef that it was a delicious meal and we noticed the piano from the pictures.   It was situated so that I couldn’t really see it when I was at our table and there were 4 bar stools around it that I could see. I had thought it just a bar.   I motioned with my hand for him to go to the piano.   There weren’t any other customers to cook for, so he went to the piano and the lady came out from behind the cooking station, sat down on a stool and began to sing.   First, though, she apologized and told us she was 87 years old!   Her voice was still very much in shape and they performed 2 songs for us.   Delightful.

Image

Image

Image

Apparently other Musashino guest conductors have eaten at this restaurant because they had a concert poster from 2007 on the wall.   We decided to deliver a current one and dropped off one of these:

Image

We went shopping around the Musashino area after lunch just to see the little shops there and happened upon a tea shop.   Below is a picture of the man who owns the shop who was roasting (I guess) his own tea.   His eyes are closed, but see the machine?   Terrible pic, I know.

Image

Typical tea shop below.

Image

On Thursday, we went back to the Asakasa/Senso-ji Temple area in order to catch a Sumida River boat cruise.   It’s a 45 minute cruise that ended at the Hinode Pier area where we could see the Rainbow Bridge at dusk.   It was difficult to get a clear shot of the bridge at the end of the cruise, but you can get the idea in the pics below.   First, a different shot of one of the temple gates:

Image

Just a regular shopping day in Asakasa:

Image

The boat reminded us of Batteau Mouche, the cruise we used to take on our VAM tours in Paris:

Image

Image

Image

On Saturday, we went to the world famous Tsukiji Fish Market.  We could literally smell fish the second we got off the subway train while still under ground!  It’s a massive market, one of the largest in the world, that handles 450 kinds of seafood with more than 2,000 tons daily. During the middle of the night, boats start arriving from the seas around Japan, Africa and as far away as the Americas.     In particular, tuna gets unloaded around 3 a.m., laid on the ground and numbered with its world famous auction taking place between 4:40 – 6:30 a.m.  The vegetable auctions begin at 6:30.    Wholesalers get what they bought transferred to their own stalls at the market and begin selling to their regular customers, retail stores and restaurants.  They only allow about 100 people to watch the tuna auction for a few minutes in two shifts of around 50 each.  It would have been best for us to try to the do the auction right when we got here in October when we were still on east coast time.   We weren’t too interested in getting up at the crack of dawn to do this, but they close the auction to visitors this time of year anyway.   We did truly enjoy our time wandering around all the stalls at the market and had the most amazing sushi at a restaurant in the same block as the market.    Enjoy the pics below.   I’ll close with swords at the end!

See the tourists walking to stand in line at one of the many sushi places.

Image

Yet another knife shop at the market:

Image

A store specializing in peppers and hot sauce:

Image

Taking a break and eating a delicious and beautiful snack:

Image

Here are others we didn’t buy:

Image

Inside of the gorgeous desserts made of red beans; outside is made of white beans.   Takes a week:

Image

Stuff like this everywhere and just sitting around waiting to go somewhere or be sold:

Image

Lots of shoe places at the market sell these kinds of shoes:

Image

Lots of carts like this zooming around with all kinds of stuff on them:

Image

Many random buckets of fish:

Image

And random things like fish heads:   (Ew!)Image

We had heard the fresh sushi was amazing and had to give it a try.   We waited:

Image

And waited …

Image

And waited …

Image

Image

And finally got to sit right in front of the chef!

Image

This is where part of our order came from …

Image

Just kidding, but it really was sitting right there behind the chef.  Wonder how often he grabbed a few from there.   Here’s what we got:

Image

And this …

Image

And this, too: (Forgot to take a pic before we dug in – sorry!)

Image

As you can imagine, it was the best sushi meal we have ever eaten.   After walking around a bit more to see more shops, we headed to Japan Sword.   Museums and collectors buy from them from all over the world.   Japan Sword has been in business since 1900 during the Meiji period.   It is one of the best known sword shops in the world with an outstanding collection of Samurai art, reproductions and a restoration and sword polishing department.  Our boys have been dreaming and scheming for a replica for many, many months and research was done as well as a few visits to the shop to make decisions.  The workers there know us and we finally made our decisions!   Checking them out:

Image

Packing them up:

Image

Used what was in our wallet and these faces = Priceless!

Image

I’ve now caught up to Saturday – whew!   Hope you are enjoying our adventures.   More to tell later on!

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Japan #34 – Statues, Skytree and German Christmas Market

Image

Last Saturday, we went back to our favorite place, Asakusa.  We just love looking in all the shops and Saturdays are always busy around there.   We decided to get off the main touristy street and explore the smaller alleys.   We happened upon an outer part of the Senso-ji Temple with the above statue.   (This is the same temple where we took our picture in front of the 5 Story Pagoda in our first weeks here.)  We have noticed all the statues now have what looks like bibs and hats.   We guessed it was due to the colder weather and part of a ritual.   I decided to do some research to know and here’s what I found:    Jizo is the Buddhist deity for travelers, women and children and is one of the most popular deities in Japan as far as I can tell.  Local women usually take care of jizo statues and make them hand-knitted hats and hand-sewn bibs. The practice of dressing them is related to accruing merit for the afterlife, a common theme in Buddhism.   This particular jizo has lots of babies with him.  According to folklore, he hides children under his robes to protect them from demons and safely shepherd their souls to salvation.   I have seen it written both Jizo and jizo.   I have no idea if any of that is accurate, but it’s what I found on the internet.

We wanted to look at the miniature shop one more time and were honored to meet the owner of Sukeroku, the toy shop that has been in business over 400 years.   The current owner is 80 years old and his family has owned the business for 136 years.   Longevity of family businesses is very common in Japan and something we think contributes to the excellent service of this country.  Supposedly in the final years of the Edo period there were sumptuary laws that legislated even toys be as small as possible.   Sukeroku is the only hand made miniatures toy shop left in Japan.  I wish we had a picture, but only about two people can stand in the toy shop because it’s … well … miniature.   It’s really a tiny little shop. I’ll try and snap a pic before we leave, but it’s also difficult to even see in the shop because it has a longer than usual noren hanging outside of the shop.   A noren is a small entrance curtain that let’s people know instantly the line of business.   It could be described as an old fashioned Japanese billboard or neon sign.  Not sure why the toy store’s is so long.

Here are a few other statues.   Not sure if they are jizo or not, but I am sure the quality of the pictures is pretty bad.  Sorry, it was getting dark.

Image

Image

Image

As darkness began to fall, we finally made the trek to the mother of all tourist attractions and local favorite – TOKYO SKYTREE.   This is the tallest free-standing broadcasting tower in the world as well as an observatory, shopping and restaurant area.  We can actually see  the tower from our apartment.    Here are a few pics:

Image

At the base:

Image

Family pic:

Image

And this gem!

Image

Last Sunday we sang in the choir … (choir robe selfie)

Image

Went to Yoyogi Park in search of an antique flea market and found these guys:

Image

And these gals.   What was actually happening and why, we don’t know, but I’m guessing it is a dance club.

Image

We did find the antique flea market and found it so interesting how many American pieces were there.   I saw my Raggedy Ann bank from elementary school days and an old Ronald McDonald doll.

On Tuesday, we went to a mall called Roppongi Hills with Danny and his girlfriend (seen below on the subway with the boys) to meet up with some of his friends from language school at a German Christmas Market.   Danny works as an English conversation buddy at the language school and is a favorite among the students there.

Image

Again with the peace sign in pictures.   EVERYONE does it here.   The German market had German food and our favorite Christmas store – Kathe Wolfhart!   We had a terrific time and enjoyed the food, fellowship and decor.   Seeing some of our Christmas ornaments hanging on display that we had purchased at Kathe Wolfhart on trips to Germany made me begin to feel a bit ready to come home.  This is actually a good thing because we have loved it here so much I could move.

Image

Image

Image

Image

The above pic is the road next to Roppongi Hills and shows Tokyo Tower, a tower based on the Eiffel Tower but is higher.   Since 1958, Tokyo Tower was the highest thing in Tokyo until Sky Tree came along.

I’ve only made it to last Tuesday with this blog.   I must catch up somehow because I don’t want to forget all that we’ve done.   Stay tuned!

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.