‘Twas the Night Before Fuji

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Twas the night before Fuji,
when all through the house,
the two of us were stirring,
yes me and my spouse.

The backpacks we packed,
crammed the hiking gear with care,
in hopes that the stuff that we need
will be there.

Early morning we’ll rise,
get up with the sun.
Take the train to the bus,
a couple hours, we’re done.

We start at station 5,
go walking toward the peak.
Hoping our legs stay strong,
and our pace isn’t meek.

By the end of the day,
our mountain hut we should see.
At 11,300 feet,
we eat, rest and …well, you know the rest.

Friday morning we rise,
it’ll be early and cold
When the sun does comes up,
the peak we’ll behold.

That’s it for now,
this story’s on hold.
More to come later,
to let you know how we rolled.


An Update on Grocery Shopping…

After 7 months living here in Tokyo, going to the supermarket has started to feel fairly routine. I still have trouble identifying some products, and still haven’t found some of the things I would like to buy, but I am getting used to the way it is done here in urban Tokyo.

This is a typical grocery store haul for me…  And I mean “haul” since I have to carry it at least a kilometer back to our apartment. This is just under 3000 yen worth of groceries. I would have liked to have gotten a couple more things on this trip — a bag of rice, for example (another 2 kg for the bag I usually buy) — but I had reached the limit of what I could comfortably carry today. Believe me, I have gotten pretty good at judging! It’s not pleasant carrying an overloaded grocery bag all the way home during the hot Tokyo summer!

The stores are all fairly small — small neighborhood places. They have small shopping baskets that you carry through the aisles, or you can put that basket into a little cart to wheel around the store. No giant grocery carts here. The aisles are narrow. When you go through the checkout, they load your groceries into another basket. Then after you pay (cash preferred!) you take your basket to a table and pack your own grocery bags to carry home.

I have three “nearby” supermarkets (Su-pa-) that I regularly shop:  two are about a kilometer away, and another is about 1.5 kilometers away. And… there are three more that I occasionally go to that are about 2K away. Just as in the US, there is no shortage of stores, it all just depends on what is most convenient. I shop different places depending on what I need to get. For the most part the prices are nearly the same, but I have found that one store or another will save me a few yen on certain things.

I have loyalty cards from some of these stores, so that I can accrue points toward future purchases, and as you can see in the photo, I now have a brand new reusable shopping bag! I brought 2 from home, but I like this new Hanamasa bag… I have found it is so much easier to carry groceries home with the reusable bag slung over my shoulder than to carry plastic bags in my hands. Plus… I can get more groceries in one trip. I have to shop 4 or 5 times per week anyway. I would rather not go to the store more than I have to.

Since most people in this urban area walk or ride bikes to the supermarket, products are packaged in much smaller sizes. Milk and juice come in 1 liter cartons, and eggs in 4 or 6 packs — although Hanamasa sells eggs in a 10-pack as well. Produce is all beautiful, but a bit pricey, and they will package much of it individually. Because of the small sizes, of course, you have to make several trips per week… and some people shop daily.

Even though we are learning Japanese, and I now can read both Hiragana and Katakana, I still have trouble reading the packaging. Most products are fairly obvious, but I still come home with some surprises now and then. There has been a bit of trial and error, and some experimentation, but most of the time I get the things I need.

We live — and eat — very simply here. No fuss. As I learn more about Japanese cuisine, and Japanese products, I expect to become a little more sophisticated with our diet here, but I think we are doing quite well considering how different it all is.  And yes…we are still enjoying the adventure…

The Challenges of Living Two Lives

This is the “he” part of this blogging team, resolving to be more diligent about posting in the blog. Today, some thoughts about living two lives.IMG_1107

When I took this 2-year assignment in Japan, I didn’t really appreciate the fact that I was signing up to live two lives.

One life is, of course, made up of the day-to-day tasks of living in a foreign country. Work consumes a lot of the weekdays and offers its own challenges and rewards. Seeing and experiencing the culture is a great experience. And then there are the more routine things…buying groceries…working out at the gym…paying the bills.

For the most part, this life abroad has been good. The people here are remarkably friendly and accepting. The city is safe and clean. And the culture is fascinating. Granted, there are “those days” in this life. Learning the Japanese language, for example, has been a mixture of challenge, frustration, and downright irritation for me. After one particularly difficult Japanese class last week, I felt absolutely disheartened. Fortunately, the feeling passed. For the most part, this life is good.

Then there is the other life. The one back home.

Going into this, it seemed simple enough. Make the proper arrangements, and go away to live for a couple of years. The things back home would be on hold, and would pretty much take care of themselves. Keep in touch with video calls, and the occasional trip back. No fuss, no bother.

Well, not quite.

In a way, it’s great having the reassurance that there is something waiting back in the other life. People we love. Nice house. Nice car. All that we enjoyed before this adventure began.

But there is also the difficulty of having that second life. Loved ones experience major life changes, and we can share them only from thousands of miles away. Damage happens to the house, and to the car that has to be taken care of (fortunately, nothing serious). We feel concern about the direction our native country is going, and what it will be like when we return.

All this to say, having two lives can be complicated. Sometimes, all is good in both lives, and it’s a great day. Other times, there are problems or difficulties in one or both of the lives, and things look gloomy.

Is it worth it, signing on to have an additional life? Yes, I would say so. There are great opportunities in living a new and different life, and they outweigh the challenges.  The key, I think, is to let go of the things you can’t control (which, actually, turns out to be most of it). You plan what you can, and learn to adapt to the rest. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t for everyone. I’m still learning. But the rewards for the effort, I believe, are priceless.



Random thoughts…

Sorry …  This should have been posted 2 months ago… but is still true now. At seven months living as an expat in Tokyo… it is all true.. It is still the same.

After five months living here in Tokyo, I have to say that I really do love it here — most of the time. I am enjoying learning about this country, and the people and the culture here. There are days — yes — that are a struggle, and some things that frustrate me. The language barrier has been the biggest struggle for us, but the Japanese people have been so kind and patient and eager (for the most part, anyway) to help, that it really hasn’t been that much of a problem. Our Japanese teacher told us that we really could get by here without learning the language, and I know for a fact that many expats do just that. I personally don’t want to do it that way. I want to learn the language and be able to converse with people here. I am learning Japanese, but I am no where near able to understand or speak it yet.  I know it will take time.

Today as I walked into the “su-pa-” (supermarket) an employee started talking to me in Japanese and handed me the store’s loyalty card.  All the supermarkets and convenience stores (“con-bi-ni”) around here have them. The fact that he targeted me to give me the card was what really gave me pause.  I shop at this store probably 3 or 4 times per week.  I am sure that by now all the employees have noticed me.  I mean…  there aren’t that many non-Asian-looking people here in Shibaura. I am sure that I stick out like a sore thumb, but sometimes I forget how different I must look to them. But… lol…  this is the first time anyone has actually approached me to “speak” to me. Unfortunately…  I couldn’t speak Japanese,and he couldn’t speak English.  We were still at an impasse with the language, but everyone was so friendly trying to help. I was just trying to find out how to register the card so that I could actually use it. Finally, I told them in broken  Japanese that I would have my Nihongo (Japanese language) sensei (teacher) help me with it. *Phew*… what an ordeal!

When I got to the check-out, the girl waved the same loyalty card at me and I showed her that I already had one. She took it from my hand and peeled it off the cardboard card and swiped it…  And I think she said something to the effect that I could get credit for the purchase before I had the card registered.  Hey…  all the better! As I accrue points, I can get discounts… I’ll take that! Groceries here are kind of expensive!

When I walk through my neighborhood back in Georgia, I always speak to the people I meet. Here in Tokyo, they rarely do that. Everyone is in their personal bubble, and tries not to interfere with anyone else. It is that “Meiwaku” thing. (See previous post about Meiwaku.) I used to think it was because I am a foreigner, but they treat everyone the same way. But then, when we went hiking at Mt. Takao last weekend, just about everyone we met along the trail said “Konnichiwa” (hello/good day.) Sometimes the little kids (who are learning English in school) practice their English on us. We will get the occasional “hello” or “hi” from them. Sometimes in this isolation of not knowing the language, I start to feel like I am unwelcome here, but I really don’t think it is true at all. When I have had the opportunity to actually interact with them, I have found nothing but kind and friendly people, as eager to understand and learn about me as I am about them.

The point — and I have trouble explaining this — is that it isn’t just about the language. The language is a hurdle, but I can learn words. This experience living in Japan is also helping me to understand about the attitudes and the culture, and the history that produced this culture. It is all so different… so unique… so fascinatingly diverse. We need to embrace this diversity… Love it. Nurture it. Internalize it. Be it.



Summertime in Japan means lots and lots of festivals. I mean, every weekend is an excuse for a get-together, right? Like weekend BBQ’s and pool parties in the US, weekend festivals are everywhere here in Japan. Right now — mid-August — is the height of the summer vacation season, with the school holidays winding down toward the new school year.


In recent weeks — here in Tokyo — we have been to a paper lantern festival in Odaiba, a Hanabi (fireworks) festival in Asakusa, a Mikoshi (portable shrine) festival also in Asakusa, and another Mikoshi festival in Fukagawa at the Tomioka Hachiman Shrine. Every weekend there are fireworks, beer gardens, food festivals, and children’s festivals at various locations all around Tokyo. Some, like the Mikoshi festivals, are associated with the Shinto religion, some are Buddhist, and some… just for the fun of summertime.


At all of these festivals there are crowds of people, lots of activities, plenty of amazing Japanese street food (future blog post!!), and beer gardens. The summer in Tokyo is hot and steamy. The weather at times can be sweltering-ly miserable. I don’t really recommend a visit here during the summertime… except that there are so many great activities and festivals to attend. So much to see, so much to do… and everyone has a good time!

Coming up this week…  and into the weekend… is the Obon Festival. The Buddhist tradition of honoring one’s ancestors. Something like a combination of Memorial Day and All Saint’s Day/Halloween in the US. Here is a Wikipedia link:





I took this photo of a cormorant along the canal this morning. I was walking to the spouse’s Japanese class at the company where my husband is working here in Tokyo. The water birds like to gather here in this spot under the monorail track…  and apparently have for quite awhile since the city has provided nesting and perching boxes and floats on the canal for them.

Despite all the heavy rains we have had the past few days, the canal was really low — the tide was out — and the water was almost flat calm. Hardly a ripple. No wind, and the humidity hung in the air. this guy had his wings spread to try to dry them. If you know about cormorants, they don’t have the same oily coating on their feathers that other water birds do, and they sit really low in the water… with usually only their head and neck above water. When they get out of the water, they have trouble getting their wings dry again. That is why they stand like this. I imagine he was having a really hard time getting dry with this humidity.

The baby ducks  — actually they have grown to be “teenage” ducks at this location in the canal — were swimming around, feeding around the float. They still hang together in a group, and mama duck just sits on the float and watches them now. There seems to have been a Spot-bill Duck population explosion here this summer. Baby ducks and half grown ducks are everywhere on the canals around our apartment. They are so cute, and so fun to watch. We have actually made casual acquaintance with a Japanese man who also watches the ducks on a nearby canal. He stops and talks to us now and then. Thankfully, his English is much better than our Japanese.

As I walked along the canal this morning the cicadas were droning, “see-see-see-see-see.” I have noticed that their sounds change during the course of the day. They make different sounds in the mornings and evenings. As I walked home from the supermarket this afternoon, their sounds had changed to “we-o-we-o-we-o.” Weird, huh? I never noticed this before…  and I have been listening to cicadas all my life!

I saw a little girl walking along the canal. She couldn’t have been more than 6 years old… she was missing her two front teeth… and as she walked along all by herself, she chattered excitedly on her cell phone. This struck me strange for two reasons…  Number one that she was so young (and alone!!) and already so caught up with her cell phone! Number two… that she was talking out loud on that cell phone!

The Japanese people are very private people, and you rarely see (or hear) them actually talking on their phones in public. They are almost always staring at their phones… texting on their phones, but they don’t speak on them very often in public. In fact,  there are very prominent signs on the trains and buses telling people to silence or turn off their phones. It is something of a cultural faux pas to talk on your phone on the subway, and I have heard that bus drivers will tell patrons to stop using their phones on the buses.

Walking around Tokyo, hardly anyone makes eye contact. Everyone walks around in a bubble, and there is rarely any interaction. It used to bother me… thinking that in some way they were rejecting me because I was a foreigner. But it is completely different when you get away from Tokyo. When we hike at Mt. Takao, everyone we meet greets us with “Konnichiwa!” (Hello!) And sometimes — especially the kids — will greet us in English! lol. It is a constant string of greeting all the way up and down the mountain.

Anyway… I know this is a bit of a rambling post, but… I just wanted to talk about my day. This place…  I am constantly amazed at what I see and hear and experience.


Bicycles are everywhere here in Tokyo. In the US, most people ride bicycles purely for recreation, but here in Tokyo, bicycles are an important means of transportation. Sure, there are still actual lycra-clad “cyclists” on “road bikes” like at home, but most of the bicycles here are the ordinary, practical type — equipped with baskets and/or kid seats. And… these bicycles travel around on the sidewalks, not on the streets. I cannot tell you how many times I have nearly been side-swiped by a bicycle as I have walked along the sidewalks.

I am fascinated by these bicycles, and can’t help but watch them. I am amazed when I see a young mother — usually in a skirt and heels — with an infant strapped to her chest, a toddler in the front baby seat, and an older child in the back seat. I am shocked when I see people riding their bikes in the rain holding an umbrella overhead. I laugh when I see the women riding with their small dogs in the front basket. And… I carefully move to the side when I see someone “texting and riding” on the sidewalk…  lol. Maybe they are chasing Pokemon! Who knows…

It is often a family affair of bicycles on the weekends… Father riding in the front, followed my a mother with a young child, and then older children on their own bicycles trailing behind them. Men in suits ride bicycles. Delivery people ride bicycles. Meter readers and city workers ride bicycles. It is a very practical and cost effective way to travel around this small area of urban Tokyo. The only traffic problems are with the pedestrian-crowded sidewalks. They weave expertly in and out among the walkers and runners and older ladies dragging their shopping baskets.

Some of these “commuter bicycles” actually have a power-assist feature that kicks in when they press hard on the pedals. That would seem to be a desired feature for some of these tiny, young mothers with multiple children in tow, and baskets full of groceries.

One day as I passed the convenience store (“kon-bi-ni”), I saw a bicycle parked on the sidewalk with a toddler strapped into the baby seat…  Mama was apparently inside the shop. No…  that would probably never happen in the US, but here it is ok. Mama no doubt had her eye on the child from inside, and no one walking by bothered the child. The young child was sitting contentedly, waiting for mama. He was not trying to climb out, or crying or fussing. Just waiting patiently.

I saw a bicycle with a dog in the front basket parked outside the supermarket. The dog looked somewhat anxious, but still… sat obediently in the basket waiting. He did not bark, or offer to jump out of the basket. I am just amazed at this phenomenon of transportation.

Parking fees for cars here at the apartment buildings are really high. It is very expensive to have a car in central Tokyo.  But every apartment building has free parking areas for bicycles. Racks and racks of bicycles, and they are almost never locked up. Our apartment building — one of the smaller apartment high-rises on Shibaura — has 240 apartments, and a large bicycle parking area in the basement… with a dedicated elevator to take your bicycle to the street level exit. Much more convenient than getting a car out of the underground parking area.

I know using bicycles for transportation in the US would not be very practical, but this mode of transportation works well here…  with the added bonus of getting a little bit more healthy exercise into the day.