Tuesday, February 19, 2008

How did I get here?

We are set to move to our new apartment in Roppongi Hills this coming weekend, barring any issues with Rich's visa.  In the days since our arrival, I have visited this enormous complex several times to stop by our mostly empty apartment and marvel at where I have landed. (We'll be in the tower in the foreground)

When we tell Japanese that we will be living in Roppongi Hills, we mostly get jaw-dropping wide-eyed stares.  At least two people who I have asked to visit us have stated that they never thought they would know anyone who lived there.

I did some further research and came to understand that this city within a city has had its share of controversy.  As in many development projects, not everyone has been satisfied with the proceedings.  Some people complain of noise pollution caused by the public theater spaces, others wonder who really shops in the high end stores.  Still, it is what it is, according to Wikipedia,  a - mega-complex incorporating office space, apartments, shops, restaurants, caf├ęs, movie theaters, a museum, a hotel, a major TV studio, an outdoor amphitheater, and a few parks. The centerpiece is the 54-story Mori Tower. The developer's stated vision was to build an integrated development where high-rise inner-urban communities allow people to live, work, play, and shop in proximity to eliminate commuting time.  He argued that this would increase leisure time, quality of life, and benefit Japan's national competitiveness. 

For further details on its construction, visit Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roppongi_Hills

You'll find a neat 360 degree virtual tour along with a description of the attractions and amenities via the following link. 

So it comes down to this.  When I look out the windows of our 10th story apartment I see the Tokyo Park Hyatt Hotel and the street below houses Louis Vuitton and Max Mara.  Two stores I would never find reason to enter.  Then again there are neat sculptures, an outdoor theater, gardens, a movie theater, and a big bookstore where you can read magazines and sip Starbucks. The plantings along the walkways and sidewalks are stunning for winter weather. Spring flowers in full bloom.  Upon closer examination you can see that the soil is not only irrig
ated but heated as well. 

As far as our apartment goes, we have heated floors and remote controlled forced air heating/AC units in the ceilings.  We have the ubiquitous heated toilet seat with all sorts of bottom cleansing functions but I think that is fairly standard.  So in the scheme of things, the apartment doesn't really blow me away.   

So while I laugh at the absurd luxury of some of the surroundings, this is where I've landed and time will tell whether or not it really suits me.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Eat more greens

I have found heaven in Azabu Juban.  It's a place called Eat More Greens.  Rich actually found it. Since we've been together, he has developed vegetarian radar and always has his eye out for places that will accommodate me.    

This past weekend, we headed there for lunch and to my delight, Max chowed down on the black rice with black soybeans.  I am now on a mission to recreate this dish.  I boldly asked for the recipe and it is actually available, in Japanese of course.

Even a scan on the internet didn't turn up a recipe that seemed to resemble the dish.  So I will continue on my quest.  There is a big bookstore near our future apartment and a new friend has recommended two Japanese cookbooks, including one by the Martha Stewart of Japan,  so I'll check those out when I get the chance.

In case you were wondering, here's what I found out about black rice on the internet:

Asians have been eating black rice for over 3000 years, particularly in China. Black rice was rare and high in nutrition; only people in the Imperial family were allowed to eat it. (History of kurokome/black rice). Black rice is rich in anthocyanin which are important to suppresses oxidation in the body, and these benefits are not found in white rice. Black rice also contains more vitamin B, niacin, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc than white rice. Today, black rice is widely available and you don’t have to be an Imperial family member to enjoy it. 

Auntie Julia, Max wants to tell you that we can Eat More Greens everyday when you come to visit!

Thank goodness for Starbucks

I am embarrassed to admit that I've found a haven in Starbucks.  I was not a regular back in the States. In fact I don't drink much coffee at all.  But here, Starbucks supplies two important things to me: 1) the Azuki Scone and 2) napkins.

Let me explain.  The Azuki Scone is one of the few things that Max will eat.  And those of you who know Max, know that he is a picky eater. Since we've been in Japan, his finickiness has intensified and I'm desperate to find anything for him to eat.  Chocolate?  French Fries?  I don't care as long as it has calories.

The Azuki scone is on the "healthy" menu at Starbucks so it gets a green label in the display case.  Apparently it's made of soybean flour and azuki beans give it sweetness.  We picked one up for Max the other day and he LOVED it.   So now I go every morning and dutifully pick up a scone for Max.  We then find a table and try not to disturb our fellow customers.  Max flits around the store coming back to our table for bite after bite and I am, for a moment, confident in my ability to feed my son.

This brings me to reason #2 for taking refuge in Starbucks.  Napkins.  As you, reader, will know, Starbucks provides an endless supply of paper napkins.  And in a city where paper napkins and towels are scarce, I am able to stock up.  Rich and I regularly stuff our pockets and bags with extra napkins and stockpile them in our apartment.

There's Max with his daily azuki scone.  Note the extra napkins on the table.


Friday, February 8, 2008

Searching for Playgrounds

So far, Max and I have checked out two playgrounds.  We came across our first one by accident yesterday on a leisurely stroll in the Akasaka area.  I peered up a narrow side street and saw a set of stone steps that led to the archway of a shrine.  With nothing better to do, I rolled Max up the side street and parked the stroller at the foot of the steps.  I unclipped Max and we set up the steps.

Once we were up the steps, we saw that the shrine actually sat in a small park with some playground equipment. The ground on the playground side was packed dirt (and in some areas mud) - in contrast to the lovely stone pathways that surrounded the shrine.

I was unsure how to properly conduct myself at a shrine.  There was a structure with small pool of water filled by a bamboo pipe and two dipping utensils.  Max wanted to play in the water but I thought better of it.  Instead we wandered on the pathway and played with small stones lining the walkways.

Soon we headed to the playground and Max quickly learned to climb up and send himself down the slide.  He went up and down for a while and played on some other structures.  We watched the birds flying above and played on the stone lions guarding the shrine.  We were the only ones in the park and it was peaceful.

With mud encrusted in the soles of our shoes, we finally said our farewells to the lions and headed slowly down the stone steps back into the bustle of a Tokyo morning.


Today, we ventured further, to Robot Park, which is literally adjacent to our future apartment in Roppongi Hills.  As the playground came into view, Max began to squeal with delight so we hurried across the street and up a slope to join the other parents, kids and strollers. 

It was a mixed crowd - both Japanese and International.   Most kids were older than Max and threatened to bowl him over.  Still he ventured fearlessly about, went up and down some slides and an unusual slide whose surface was made up of round metal dowels that spun as the kids rolled across them.  Max absolutely loved it and was soon going up and down by himself.  It was so nice to see him so happy.   

Max refused to get into his stroller for our walk home so he walked alongside me through Roppongi Hills.  I finally had to force him when we were ready to reach the main road.  I think he was overtired because after protesting he dropped off to sleep, lulled  by the roar of traffic.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Day one: Highlights

I'll mention that the white glove service continued as we checked into our temporary corporate apartment in Akasaka.  The person at the front desk nearly outdid himself welcoming us and helping us with our bags and getting us settled into our apartment.  I was beginning to like this strange new country...

We passed our first evening in the apartment figuring out the heating system - eachroom has a ceiling mounted forced air heater/AC unit operated by remote control, watching TV and eating cornflakes.  Max and I crashed by 8PM and were back up again at 3AM.  So we played... and I ate more cornflakes.  Rich took over with Max and I went back to sleep from about 4:30-6:30. And that was the beginning of our first full day in Tokyo.

It rained/snowed throughout the day.  This photo on the right was taken in Azabu-juban as we walked up to Roppongi Hills to see our new apartment.

Other highlights of the day
1) Max's three hour nap
2) The local pita shop run by an Israeli with a penchant for Guns n' Roses.  When I ventured in to buy falafel for lunch I was greeted by "Welcome to the Jungle".  I felt like I was back in high school art class with the stoners.
3) Heated floors and toilet seats
4) Finally seeing our future apartment and Max running gleefully around in it
     ....the photo below is Max in our new apartment with a frighteningly modern phone/intercom touchscreen thing

Departure remembered

Yes, it has taken me until today - our 2nd full day here in Tokyo - to sit down and post my first entry.  Our final days in the U.S., spent packing up our home in Maplewood and saying goodbye to friends and family, were choked with the sadness of mourning.   As our belongings were boxed and loaded - bound for two years of lonely storage, my sense of rootedness vanished. There is a reason they are called "belongings".  They are the items that allow you to feel that you belong somewhere.  And without them, I was adrift.

Little by little, our house was emptied.  Max, Cherry and I ate our last lunch together "picnic style" on a flattened piece of cardboard in our empty spare bedroom.  Max, standing confused in his empty room, pointing to a spot on the wall, his big brown eyes asking me "where is my butterfly?"  These and other moments broke my heart.

In New York, where we spent our final three days, the mood was a bit more upbeat, as we saw friends and family in back-to-back blocks of time.  Still, I could not shake the sadness.

Rising on Monday morning, February 4th, I set my mind on auto-pilot as we gathered our bags and boarded a van to Newark airport.  Just keeping Max, Rich and myself and our carry on items together took enough energy to keep my mind off the dreaded 13 hour flight ahead of us.

In retrospect, the dreaded flight passed relatively smoothly.  While Max slept minimally and I did not sleep at all, he was mostly manageable.  We spent a fair amount of time on the floor doing puzzles, watching DVDs and peeling and sticking stickers.  I'll save you, reader, from further detail.  Trust me - it was pretty boring.  Let's just say that we finally landed.