Full Circle

Home Sweet Hotel

It’s hard to believe that the end is in sight. Our belongings are being loaded onto a Seattle-bound boat and we’re in the much-maligned state of expat limbo: living in a hotel. I’m sure the maid wonders about our odd assortment of luggage, which is mostly souvenirs and fishing poles at this point. We’re in the same hotel that we started this whole adventure in back in December, so it’s a rather fitting way to neatly tie up this whole experience. I’ve had a lot of time for reflection this past week as I took up the role of professional appointment-sitter, waiting for movers and couriers and inspectors to make the rounds through our apartment. It’s fun to look back and see how far we’ve come in such a short time.
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The fish market

Not long after moving here, I stumbled upon a gem tucked in some back alleys and warehouses near Nagoya Station. I’ve been around Seattle long enough to know what it means when you see men running around in rubber boots and carrying Styrofoam boxes full of ice: it must be a fish market. After a few days of walking past and trying to catch a glimpse inside, I finally worked up the courage to venture into the fray. Hanging around Pike Place Market in Seattle doesn’t prepare you for the utter chaos that is a high-volume wholesale fish market in Japan. Restaurant buyers are placing huge orders, men are carving tuna with 3-foot-long “knives”, and orders are being rushed to and from trucks on speeding carts.

Visits to this morning market have become a real treat for me over the past six months. I always make a point of taking visitors there, since it is such an “authentic” experience. I’ve grown from being too nervous to check it out to becoming a regular customer… I even have “my guy” that always gives me a discount on a small package of tuna from that day’s fish. I love it.

Today I visited the market with my camera in hand, hoping to capture some of the experience in order to share it with you. Warning: there are a lot of dead animals in the following blog post. Sorry, that’s just the way it is.
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Fast food and guilty pleasures

The food in Japan is very, very good. No two ways about it. When you have a culture that prides itself on attention to detail and has an appreciation for only the freshest ingredients, the only possible result is delicious food. On the other hand, the food in Japan can be very, very expensive. There are times when I don’t feel like cooking but also don’t feel like breaking the bank at a restaurant… so we take those opportunities to hit the local fast food joints. I’m only a little ashamed to admit that I’ve become somewhat of a connoisseur of Japanese fast food. Continue reading

Take me out to the ballgame

It is April now, which can only mean one thing: baseball season! Baseball is huge in Japan. The Japan pro league is really popular, but the frenzy over the game pales in comparison to the love that they have for the Japanese players that have made it to the MLB. Example: it’s quite common for people to ask us where we are from. We usually start with “America”. If there is still interest after that, they often ask which state. This generates a fair amount of confusion with the more familiar Washington, D.C., which usually results in an awkward interruption – “No, not that Washington, the other one tucked up in the corner… no? Oh.” One time I tried a new approach by responding, “Seattle?” A light bulb switched on and the person cried, “Ichiro!” (For those of you not in the know, Ichiro Suzuki is a famous Japanese baseball player that plays for the Seattle Mariners). Yes, Ichiro! I now go directly for that approach whenever I’m asked where I’m from, skipping right past country and state. “I’m from Seattle,” pause, “yes, same as Ichiro!”. I wonder what would happen if I claimed we were neighbors?
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It’s the little things

I never leave home without a camera, since I never know when I’m going to run across something that makes me smile. As a result, I’ve built quite a collection of candid photos that capture tiny aspects of our experience here. I thought I’d share some with you from the past few weeks to give you a glimpse into the little things that make life here such a unique experience. No common theme here, just a bunch of random observations to share. Without further ado…
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Lunch Time

12:00 is the national lunch hour in Japan. At precisely 12, the office buildings literally empty themselves onto the streets – and suddenly the city becomes a river of business suits and briefcases. This is not a good time to ride a bike to the supermarket (I’ve tried, it’s hopeless to attempt to navigate the sidewalks). It is, however, a fantastic time for a little bit of people-watching.
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Name That Tune

Japan is not a quiet place. Of course, you might argue that no city could be described as “quiet”, but Japan seems to have taken all the noise to a new level. At first, I thought this was just part of the culture shock of moving from a rural environment to the city, but I’ve come to realize that a lot of the noise is unique to this country in particular.

I was validated in this realization by this great article in the Japan Times this week – if you have the time, give it a quick read (it’s short and sweet). The article provides a humorous description of the noises that I encounter every single day. For example, an observation about shopping: “To reel in the customers you have to first hook them with an earsplittingĀ ‘Irasshaimase!’ [‘Welcome!’] Otherwise, they may swim down the street to some other shop. Which is why everyone everywhere is screaming.” It’s so true!

The one way in which my experience differs is inside of our apartment. Fortunately, it is dead quiet in here. Either our neighbors are mute and light-of-foot, or the walls are an impressive feat of sound dampening technology. Either way, the apartment is a great place to seek retreat from the noise of the city down below.

Except when the appliances come to life.
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