Japan Day 6 and part of 7.

We woke on our last full day ready to go. Plans had been flipflopping all week. Dinner with M’s parents, lunch with the parents, lunch with Dad, dinner with Mom…by Friday it had been nailed down. And actually, I like the way it turned out. We walked up the street through the neighborhood and went to M’s parents’ home, around a quarter of a mile away. Mom was home, as she worked evenings, and that was why dinner had been nixed. Also at home was M’s Grandmother, an elderly but sprite woman. The house was very modern looking. Buying land is expensive in Tokyo, but after that, it’s not as pricey to build as it is in the United States. A lot more people have their homes custom made for them without it breaking the entire bank…the land does that on its own.
We removed our shoes and climbed the stairs to the living room/dining room area. The rooms were small but cozy, and we sat on couches while M’s mother made and served us tea and small snacks. I was thrilled. This was way better than everyone in a restaurant, I got to see another home of a family in Japan! M translated for us back and forth, and soon, Grandma showed up from the upper floor. She sat at a chair in the dining area and interjected here and there, but mostly just listened with a smile on her face. I offered them one of my glass dishes as a gift, so conversation moved to how I made it, then back to housing, real estate, and other relatively simple conversations. I asked about a collection of dolls over the piano, and before I knew it, we were off to go have lunch. We went downstairs and put our shoes back on. M’s Mom was coming with us as she had a dance lesson scheduled, which was why she wasn’t coming along for lunch. Grandma followed us all the way down the stairs and out the door to the front gate, and kept waving and saying goodbye. She seemed really happy we came to visit so I kept calling “Bye bye!” until we were out of site around the corner.
We walked to the shopping area near the trains and entered a small building. Dad’s office. M’s sister was there, who I have been helping the past few months, shipping things from the US to her to sell in her Dad’s store. It was great to see the face and the world of the person I had been helping from afar. Dad led us to a restaurant nearby and we all sat together at a larger table. Lunch was sushi, and man….oh man….was it EVER.
The first thing that appeared in front of us was snails. Giant sea snails, coiled inside shells. One plunged a toothpick down inside them and pulled them out, several inches long. Later, we found out her Dad was testing us with that, to see what we’d eat. He likes them, so wanted to see what we would do. DLJ and I just popped them down, they tasted sort of like soy sauce to me, but not overpowering at all.
They ordered us some tempura, which was lovely, but oh….the fish. So much lovely stuff. I ordered some of my usuals in order to compare them, but Dad did most of the ordering, which was fine with me.
Every now and then, a chef in the next room would ring a large bell. What he was doing was making a recommendation of a certain fish. After ringing the bell, he would take a net and catch the fish from a large tank behind him. One of these recommendations was taken by Dad, and I tell you…I had sushi within ten minutes of it swimming around. Holy cats.
We were stuffed. I wish I could have gone on…it was so delicious. I was in food heaven. M continued her role as interpreter and we talked about food, life, and my glass. They are interested in my glass for their store, but there is only one of me, so production churn isn’t something I can handle. Still…it’s a possibility.
We left, barely able to walk, so that Dad and sis could get back to work. J, M and I ambled our way on to go shopping, DLJ was looking for his own souvenir. We bought some postcards, and kept looking. I was getting very tired, shopping is not my strongpoint in the first place, and I was worried about M, 8 months pregnant. We went back to their little neighborhood and stopped at a crazy clothes shop and of course, bingo, DLJ found something right there that he liked. We all stumbled home to relax as the sun went down, then wandered out for our last dinner in Japan. I gathered all my photos into a photo album in ITunes and we watched them, played with Mu and just sat up talking late while we started packing.
Saturday, we got up and got breads and treats for the plane, then took the local train to the main station, hanging out for an hour in a shop while we waited for the next train to Narita airport. This train also was covered by our train pass, which was such a good deal for the week we were there. And then M and J walked us to the train, we got on, and waved through the windows. It was sad to say goodbye. J is more isolated than I knew, living in Japan. In my head he had more of a social life, either friends of M’s or other foreigners, but in reality, it’s a quiet existence. Of course, that will be blown to part in a matter of weeks with the arrival of their first child. But I am glad we could spend time with him, reconnect him with friends and having folks to relate to within easy reach. I hope they come to visit us in Portland some day…and maybe, if we are lucky, we will enjoy ourselves with a drink in the backyard that feels like a meadow in comparison to the small plots in Japan, as our kids run around together, laughing and sharing time together because the parents stayed in touch and remained friends.
Our trip was amazing because of M and J. We saw more, experienced more, ate more, and knew so much more because of their invaluable input and willingness to share ideas, time, and even a little money. I cannot imagine what our trip would have been without them. Fun, interesting, but a completely different experience.We can’t thank them enough for sharing their home with us. I only wish Mu hadn’t gotten so sick and left them, so quickly after we did. But at the same time, I think it made it a little easier for them to grieve after, as they weren’t alone. We had known Mu and had just been there with them, DLJ even had some pictures, the last ones taken of her. They shared their lives with us, and in return we could help them share their pain.
No pictures this time, I still have so many to process….but I didn’t take many the last days…however, I will post the last one I took of J and M as we left on the train soon.

Japan Day 4 – Trip to Kyoto

Day 4. Train to Kyoto.
Note: I am a little distracted and sad as I write this. Mu, the dog of the fine folks J and M we stayed with in Japan, died within 24 hours of our leaving. I feel really sad that perhaps we kept them from being with her as much as they could her last week, or that we prevented them from taking care of her by trying to keep us happy and amused our last day and and a half in Tokyo. Mu was a darling dog and we loved living with her for the days we were there. She was old and definitely acting sick by Friday evening. It was apparent things were not right all week, but she was still happy, and having not known her previously, I had no way of knowing how sick she was. =( I am so glad we got to meet her, her tail thumped everytime we got near and she was a happy, good dog. But I feel really bad we were in the way in such a time. I knew she was really sick by Saturday morning, and I know M was especially distracted. I didn’t say a word as I understood completely, for both of them, though perhaps I should have said that “not being on best behavior in front of us was ok.” What was wrong with her was serious, I don’t know if any medical help could have done anything other than prolong her agony…but I still feel very sad. I am glad though, that her decline was very rapid at the end, and she had a fun last week filled with lots of attention, love, and crazy Americans come to visit her. DLJ took two cute photos of her but I am hesitant to post them until J and M are feeling better, and are ready to see it should they read my entry.

J took us to the main train line Wednesday morning for our two day sojourn to Kyoto, and we waved as we went through. In our day bag was enough clothes to get us back, the computer, some books and a handy package of directions and notes provided by J and M. We stopped and bought bento boxes from a small vendor before climbing aboard. We got on a car that was non-reserved, but smoking. UGH! DLJ found a seat and I was off immediately to check if there was such a thing as a non-smoking non-reserved car. Two cars up, there was. I came back and got him and we fled the smoke-soaked cars. Even after only being in there a few minutes, it took more than a half hour for my hair and clothes to air out. We sat on the right side of the train; if it was clear we would be able to see Fuji-san, the fabled mountain of Japan.
The trip to Kyoto was about three hours at most on the shinkansen, or Bullet Train. And it was FAST. Eventually the thought crossed my mind how obliterated we would be if it went off the tracks while rocketing at full speed. Of course, such a train is connected to the tracks way more firmly than would ever let that happen. But it was the first train I had been on where the train seriously banked on turns, causing the world to come in at a slant. as if all the construction occured leaning downhill.
Finding the hotel was more difficult than it should have been, simply because the station was so LARGE. We walked around a block we didn’t have to to get to the entrance, but no harm done. We checked in and went up to our room on the 9th floor. It had a large bed, tea, a radio in the headboard, slippers, and a full bath complete with crazy toilet and fully-stocked bathtub.
I really wanted a nap but couldn’t fully fall asleep.
So instead we wandered out into Kyoto. We were trying to find the tourist office which literally took an hour to find, as the info we had was several years old. Instead of an obvious streetfront it was on a top floor in a large mall in back, boring corridors. I was pretty frustrated but it was worth the maps we got in the end, and we set out to try to find a temple. This wasn’t hard. In Kyoto temples and shrines are everywhere, like Starbucks in America.
But after a few blocks, DLJ started looking at the map and being confused. I stopped a young guy on a bike and managed to get him to point where we were now…exactly 180 degrees opposite of where DLJ thought we were. But ahead of us, what do you know! A large temple! So we went in, and we scored jackpot. It cost us about 500 yen each to enter, but inside was amazing! Acres of grounds of gardens, the largest pagoda in the town, it was huge! And large lecture buildings filled with gold statues of the Buddha, the Gods of War and the Guardians. Everything was so large, and quiet. We strolled around until the place closed at 5, then wandered the backstreets back to our hotel, finding small shrines and interesting buildings along the way. One very small neighborhood shrine was tucked away, helter skelter and had a cute black cat sitting inside. Some of our best findings in Japan were those we got just by taking a stroll.
Our feet were TIRED when we got back. Everyday we walked so much, we always had foot fatigue by day’s end.
Back to the hotel, still no nap.
Instead DLJ and I engaged in some couple-monkey business as we had been on best behavior at our friends’ house. ;)
I then took a much-needed bath, soaking in the tub and relaxing. The room had Japanese style robes, I tied one around me after the bath and we hung out for an hour before figuring out dinner. We had had a place recommended to us but we were so tired, and it was 20 minutes at least by public transit to get to, once we figured out at the front desk where it was. So instead we opted for the top floor bunch of restaurants in a nearby mall at the train station. The whole area was called The Cube. There were so many choices of varying price and kind, the train station simply was SO huge, along with the mall that it encased. We chose a place with simple Japanese fair, DLJ had some tempura and rice and I had chilled udon with bonito flakes, shrimp, a raw egg, nori, and daikon radish.
We paid and left and went out another door, and found that a whole outside area of escalators and stairs went all the way back down to street level, as well as one more level up. We went up top and found a rooftop garden area, as well as walls made of glass so that you could look out over the city. We saw the temple with the pagoda, the Kyoto Tower, it was a clear night and very beautiful. Then we took the escalators back down and walked the short walk back to the hotel, where I promptly fell asleep and DLJ watched “Bladerunner” on the computer. All the motorcycles, city buildings and narrow streets got to him, I guess!

Lunch on the shinkansen (bullet train). This cost 1100 yen.

The pagoda at the first temple we visited. I’ll find the name eventually. ;)

A large lecture hall near the pagoda at a Buddhist shrine in Kyoto.

After dinner at the top of the Cube, the largest department store/train station combo I have ever SEEN.

Nighttime shot from the top of the The Cube. The brown glow near center is the shrine with the pagoda we walked to.

Later today I will post some more pictures without trip journal. It’s 6:50 AM, I have been up since about 3, but most of that just laying in bed thinking. I’ll try to stay awake till normal bedttime tonight.

Japan – Day 3

I went with J and Mu, the dog, for their morning walk so that I could see more of J’s town.
Breakfast was yummy pastries, again! This time sitting in the restaurant and eating them. I really like the red bean paste ones.
Kamakura by train wa the day’s main activity. It was nice for J to get out of the city, and the train trip took only a little more than an hour. Outside of Tokyo the land is towns, villages, and plots of farms for vegetables, rice, and ornamental trees. Little shrines can be seen tucked into hillsides and forests, and buddhist temples were easy to recognize by now as they went by. It was one of the trains on the JR train system, so our pass worked for it, hooray! Kamakura is a small town near the water. We got off the main train and switched to a small local one to get to the actual part of town near the Giant Buddha, a main reason for tourists to visit the town. Walking there from the train was fun, lots of little shops and things to see. The temple was one you had to pay for, because of the Buddha I guess. And we rounded a corner of shrubbery along the stone path and there he was. So huge. Breathtaking. Japanese students took pictures of each other standing at his feet waving the peace sign with their fingers. An offering of oranges and flowers was in a large bowl nearby. To the side there was a giant pair of sandals hanging on a wall that belonged to the Budda. For an extra 50 yen, we could go inside the giant bronze statue itself, which we did! Inside the other tourists milled around and shoved yen into the walls and seams of the statue.
Behind the statue was a lovely little garden where we took a short break before heading back out down towards the train station. We passed a small craft shop on the way that had lampworking stations set up! They looked very different from mine, but it was neat to see, and they had many of their beads for sale in the small store. The owners were making pottery when I passed by. We stopped for some sweet potato and green tea soft serve (purple and green!) ice cream and saw what looked like the end of the road, so we passed the station and kept going. From there to the left we could see the water, so we walked there, standing on the dark brown sand next to old sinks and fishing boats. Windsurfers were out on the water, and racing boats further out to sea.
We milled around and J picked up some shells for his nephews, then we turned back and returned to the small station, and back to our main stop.
The last tourist stop of the day was a shrine where J and I picked our fortunes. The view was astounding at the top, you could see all the way down a street back to the train station, with Torii gates inbetween at intervals. To get a fortune we paid 100 yen, then shook a box until a stick with a character came out. The woman behind the table then selected a fortune based on the character, telling her which pile to pull from. It turns out mine was the worst! To fix it, I had to tie it off at the shrine on a board specifically for
that purpose, but at that time we didn’t know it was so bad. I still have it, and at this point J has cheekily suggested throwing it away as an equal solution, or buying another one to replace the bad news. ;)
We took our tired feet home after that, relaxing back in Oizumi before heading out for the night’s dinner adventure. Yakiniku! Korean bbq, Japanese style. J ordered several types of meat and they brought us a charcoal brazier that set into the table. J cooked everything for us, different cuts of beef and even round slices of cow tongue! We had rice to fill the space not quite filled by the meat and the boys had beer. Soon it was back home to laze around, drink brown tea and call it a night. J and M have been AMAZING in the food department, showing us all these differnet things we never would have found on our own. I will definitely be missing the food back home, but we do have a HUGE Japanese market near us that we keep meaning to go to. Now, we finally will.

DLJ and J picking out breakfast at the local neighborhood bakery in Oizumi.

The giant Buddha

Inside the giant Buddha

Ramen, once the plate of veggies and meat has been added to the noodles and pork broth. This might have been my favorite meal. This or the sushi meal to be discussed soon!

From the top of the large shrine we visited in Kamakura.

exploding ideas, and a dental afternoon

I like my job but man, do I have glass on the brain. I haven’t lampworked in about a week and a half, I’ve been fusing instead, so I think I might torch tonight, but meanwhile, I used my grinder for the first time and now I have another idea for things I want to do with fusing…I need to keep a list of future projects at this point, so I don’t forget anything I want to do! The in-laws are visiting this weekend so no glass for me probably, unless I can sneak a few beads in the name of “showing how it’s done” if anyone is interested. Now that I have two pairs of lampwork glasses in the studio, a buddy can come along and watch safely.
So many things to do and try. I love glass! I love it! LOVE IT! Right now I have one piece that needs to be slumped, which I will do tonight if I do not torch, or tomorrow if I do. One more piece is actually at a friend’s house, she has a larger kiln to slump it in, I don’t have a mold large enough for it. I have some bracelets for friends and one for my Mom and one to make to take to Japan and…dizzying!
I spent a couple hours at the dentist yesterday, I had two tiny cavities that would be a snap to fix, literally the size of a pin tip, except they were between two teeth, and hard to get to, so novocaine it was. My dentist was great, though, I didn’t feel a THING. Not even the shot. “Wow, my dentist when I was 12 must have sucked!” I said, and he laughed. I watched Househunters and Curb Appeal while he quick drilled, filled, and polished. The reason it took so long is I was also there for my semi-annual cleaning, and he had to let one filling dry before doing the other since they were right next to each other. I had trouble saying the letter “p” for awhile, and eating was interesting. But now my teeth are clean and I’ll try to floss better.
Mom and Dad made an offer on a condo near us here in Oregon. We shall see how that goes. I would love for them to have a home base near us to visit at without having to rent. Wouldn’t you know it, they are here looking for five weeks, then within 3 days after leaving, one comes on the market.
I have got to bring my books back to the library. But I want to torch tonight. Whine! Maybe after dinner, as dinner will be quick to make, spaghetti. Last night was marinated fish with rice and veggies. What I should have done is brought my books with me today to stop on the way home. Oh, wait, tomorrow I might be busy, so I have to torch tonight, otherwise none till next week!
So busy! I am looking forward to the family coming, DLJ’s Mom and Dad, and his sister. She will come late on Friday, as she will have to work a full day. The Simpsons are harsh task masters.

Decks and T squares

Another gorgeous day. One of these gorgeous days we are going to have to start the deck maintenance. All the materials from building the studio are put away and the deck really just needs a quick cleaning before we begin sanding. The previous owners left us this funny machine…it’s like the things they wash tennis courts with, a bunch of nozzles on a pipe sitting between two wheels that you push along. The spray from the nozzles cleans the surface and pushes any leaves, etc, out in front of the water and off the side of the deck. It pretty much rules. We have sanders lying around from the studio work and all the deck gunk sitting in the garage waiting. Maybe next week.

I just ordered the metal countertop things for the studio. We set up the stereo last night but the wiring is all over, I know when Dad sees it he won’t be able to handle it not looking nice, so hopefully he will come up with a solution. We have plenty of speaker wire to use if we need more. I think it’s close enough to done to post a photo tonight or tomorrow.

After work I am going to a local glass place in the next town over to look for a shield thing for the glass grinder I got in the mail, as well as a t-square. Then I need to figure a quick dinner while DLJ is at the golf lesson. Probably just soup and sammich.

I want more rain, dammit! Even tho I have to do my deck, but I got 110 gallons of empty waiting for some sweet rain storage.

Grocery roamin’

Last night DLJ and I went to the new Haggen store near home. It’s about the same walk as it is to the Safeway, just the other direction, and it’s a much nicer store. Many more natural products, organic foods, better deli and fish counter, better bread, and my personal “is it a good store” meter item, braided string cheese. In three varieties. Oh yeah.
My complaint was that their bulk bin of grains, flour, salts, etc, was less than 1/5 the size of the candy bulk bins, which wrapped in a giant u shape like a movie theatre monstrosity. I already left feedback on their website about that. But overall, much better store, I will do some comparison price shopping, but that’s probably where I will go for my fish from now on, and meat, the rare times I get it. Hooray for a fabulous store moving in near my home, and within walking/biking distance!

Must get to work, it’s a busy day today.