If you read the previous blog, you know my husband is away on business. It has been kind of a lonely couple of days, and he still has a few more days away. But, tomorrow our daughter and son-in-law… and his parents… arrive for a visit.

We enjoy having friends and family visit. It is fun to show everyone around Tokyo… and we enjoy sharing the sites and the culture of our adopted country. We love Tokyo, and we love living here. We want to show our visitors what is so special about Japan.

But… It is important for our visitors to understand that we are NOT tour guides. Anyone who comes to visit needs to be sure to do their homework before coming here. Japan is an amazing place, and there is so much to see and learn. Make sure to research and decide what is important for YOU to see and do. Don’t just rely on us to decide what we want to show you. Everyone has their own interests, and our interests may not be the same as yours.

Also… be brave. Be willing to go out on your own to see and do the things you want. The train system in Tokyo is amazing! Convenient, inexpensive, and multilingual! Most of the ticket machines have an English option, so it is easy to buy tickets, or recharge the convenient IC prepaid cards (Suica and Pasmo cards in Tokyo.) Learning to navigate the transit system in Tokyo is part of the fun of being here. Google maps will give you all the information you need to navigate the trains… lines, times, platform numbers and even cost! If you don’t have a phone plan that will allow you to use your smartphone here, mobile hotspots and cell phones are available for rental at the airport.

Be adventurous.  Be willing to experience the culture! Be open minded about the food options. Japanese food is wonderful. Yes… it is different from your home country… Of course it is! But try it! If, however… you absolutely can’t stand the thought of eating raw fish, or lots of rice, or grilled meats and veggies… there are American fast food options available. But why not try the local food? Why come here if you don’t want to experience something different?

There is so much to see here, but if it is your first trip to Japan, I would suggest exploring close to Tokyo. There is a lot to see in the city itself, and also many short day trips outside of Tokyo. If you have been to Tokyo before, maybe consider buying a JR Pass for the Shinkansen, and travel to some other parts of Japan. The bullet trains (Shinkansen) are a lot of fun, and can take you to all four of the major islands of Japan. But to really get your money’s worth from the JR Pass, you really need to take at least a couple of trips outside of Tokyo. A trip to Kyoto is a must. Going farther to Hiroshima or Nagasaki or to the island of Shikoku, or north to Hokkaido are all wonderful options on the Shinkansen. The JR Pass is only available for tourists. You can buy it online from home before you come to Japan, and activate it once you are here. Easy.

We look forward to having visitors to share our experience with. But understand… this is YOUR vacation, not ours. We LIVE here. It is (at least for now) our home. Share it with us, enjoy it with us… but make your trip to Japan YOUR own unforgettable experience.


On being alone in Tokyo…

We started this blog to write about what it is like to live as an expat in a foreign country. To talk not just about the fun and interesting things, but also to talk about the challenges and difficult parts of living away from home in a country and culture (not to mention language) that is so far and away different from where we are from. Sometimes this blog does morph into something like a travel guide — places to see and things to do in Japan. Today, though, I will step back and talk about one of the challenging things.

My husband just left on a business trip. He will be gone for almost a week. I have been very fortunate to be able to accompany him on many of his business trips. The company pays his travel expenses, and we pay mine. We schedule a few vacation days before or after the business part of the trip, and so we have an opportunity to do a bit of sight-seeing together. But… this time, going with him just wasn’t an option. He has a couple of business stops to make, and it just wasn’t practical.

Over the years of our marriage, he has done a fair amount of business travel, and I have stayed at home. It isn’t that I can’t stay alone, or that I am afraid to stay alone. In fact, I like some alone time now and then.

But… it is a little more challenging for me being alone here. I can manage quite well taking care of myself, our apartment, and buying groceries, etc. That is not the problem. The problem is that the amount of solitude that I have when he is gone, can start to feel overwhelming. Without a job of my own, and without the business connections and friends at work that he has, my day is pretty quiet. Sometimes too quiet.

I just got back from a trip to the US to visit family, and I left my husband here “alone” for 2 1/2 weeks. He missed me, and evenings were lonely, but he had that full day at work where he was with his co-workers and interacting with people. Then for a few hours in the evening before going to sleep, he was alone.

I guess the difficulty is that I don’t really have many friends here, and not many outlets for “socializing.” Because of the language barrier — and it is definitely a hurdle — it is hard for me to make Japanese friends. Most of them are just as shy about trying to speak English, as I am about speaking my meager amount of Japanese. And… finding English-speaking expats in our part of Tokyo is hard. We opted not to live in the popular expat areas, because we wanted a more authentic Japanese experience. Besides… living in Shibaura, close to my husband’s office, he can walk to work instead of taking a 45 minute train ride from Roppongi or Akasaka. We like Shibaura.

The Japanese people are very kind, and considerate. But they are also somewhat introverted. They don’t like to interfere in other people’s business. When we walk down the street, most of the Japanese that I meet do not make eye contact. When we ride on the trains, most people are looking at their cell phones, or have headphones in listening to music, or are sleeping (or maybe pretending to sleep.) Actually, if you hear loud conversation on the trains… it is likely to be from tourists… lol. They don’t want to interfere in each other’s business… including mine. I don’t mind, I am kind of that same personality myself. Like I said, I enjoy my “alone time” too.

And it is all well and good when I am alone during the day, and can look forward to spending time with my husband in the evenings. Except… when he is away. So this week I will have a few too many days to be all by myself.

I am not asking for pity, or even complaining. I am just bringing this topic into the blog for consideration. Yes. It can be lonely living in a foreign country. It can feel isolating. And I really do believe that you have to have the right personality to do this. You do have to be able to deal with some amount of isolation. You have to accept the challenging parts right along with the fun and interesting parts. And for us, this expat experience has been well worth dealing with those difficult parts.

Sometimes, you just need a hamburger…

We’ve lived in Japan for 2-1/2 years, and we have really embraced Japanese food. Sushi, sashimi, yakitori, soba, ramen, Japanese curry…the local food is amazing, and we take advantage of it literally every day.

But, sometimes, you just need a hamburger.


Today, for the first time since our arrival here, we had ‘burgers made at home. Hamburger from the grocery store, buns that resemble real hamburger buns, ketchup, mustard, a slice of tomato…yum, just like “home.”

Of course, there are other alternatives for Western hamburgers. Tokyo is riddled with McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King restaurants. And for a slightly Asian take on the American diet, there is Mos Burger, Lotteria and Freshness Burger. You can even find the international Shake Shack chain in several locations.

For those with an urge for Western food not involving hamburger, there are KFC shops, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and even Dunkin’ Donuts. There are even some Mexican food restaurants — a delicacy we have yet to try.

So, there really is something in Japan for every taste. For us, aside from the occasional hamburger fix, we’ll stick with the wonderfully delicious Japanese food options. Oishii desu!



Last weekend we took the train from Tokyo to Yokohama — the second largest city in Japan — which lies along Tokyo Bay just south of Tokyo. It is only a 45 minute trip from our part of Tokyo (Tamachi Station) and costs a very reasonable 500 Yen on the JR Keihin-Tohoku line. Our original purpose for going to Yokohama was to see the Bon-Odori Festival there, but there are so many interesting things to see and do there, that we spent the day.

The Port of Yokohama was one of the first port cities in Japan to open to foreign trade, and opened in 1859. It continues to be one of the most important port cities in Japan. Because of foreign trade, Yokohama hosted a large population of foreign nationals, and became a center for foreign business and industry. And even now continues to be something of a cultural melting pot.

As you ride the train from Tokyo, it is impossible to see where one city ends and another begins… going from the high-rises of Tokyo, through Kawasaki, to more high-rises in Yokohama. It is a beautiful city, with a beautiful and modern waterfront. Cruise ships, harbor cruises and water taxis abound. Modern hotels, convention facilities, and an amusement park are perched along the water. This is the popular Minato-Mirai area of Yokohama.


From the train station, we walked through this area to the waterfront, and past the amusement park, through Red Brick Warehouse — an historic building converted to upscale shopping and restaurants. Then through Yamashita Park and past the Yokohama Marine Tower, where we turned in to go to Yokohama China Town.


The streets of China Town are narrow, and always crowded… But so many things to see and foods to sample in China Town! It is a fascinating place to spend an afternoon.


Not far from China Town is the shopping district of Motomachi, where we happened upon a children’s dance festival… all the girls in colorful costumes lined up for their performances.


Late in the afternoon we walked back to Minato-Mirai for the Bon-Odori Festival — the dance festival honoring the spirits of ancestors. A stage was set up under the paper lanterns, and we watched a taiko drum performance to start off the festivities. Street food vendors were all around, and the party began!




Then the traditional Bon Odori began. Many people in traditional Japanese costume lined up for the dancing, and many more in regular clothes jumped into the performance as well. It was fun, and interesting to watch as all ages — old, young, and whole families — danced along with the music. They started out with the traditional songs, but after a while they danced to more contemporary music.




Yokohama has a lot to offer as a nearby “day trip” from Tokyo, and we just scratched the surface. There are so many more things to see and do there, that we will need to take another trip there very soon.

Lighting the way for ancestors

Summer is a time of festivals and celebrations in Japan. An interesting one is toro nagashi, a Japanese tradition where paper lanterns lit with candles are released into a river. A yearly event in Tokyo is held along the Sumida River, where upwards of 2,000 lanterns are set afloat. IMG_7919

Toro nagashi is a tradition in which the lanterns are released on rivers to guide the spirits of the ancestors back to the other side during the Obon holiday. Obon is an annual Buddhist event for commemorating ancestors. It’s a time when many Japanese travel to their home towns, to reunite with their families and pay respects to ancestors. The festival lasts for three days, but dates vary from region to region.

This year, the Sumida River toro nagashi was on the evening of August 11. Although not the biggest crowd I’ve seen in Asakusa, there were still thousands of people who turned out on a hot, muggy summer night.

For those who want to participate, a lantern can be purchased for 1,500 yen (a little under $15 US). Those with lanterns are directed to a line where the lanterns can be released into the river, beginning at dusk. Some people also release lanterns from party boats that position themselves in the river.

Even if you don’t participate in the lantern release, it does make for an interesting evening. Just watching the people makes attending this festival worthwhile. Although the majority are Japanese, Asakusa also attracts many foreigners. Walking through the crowd, it’s easy to hear English, German, French, Chinese, Italian, and a number of languages less obvious to identify.

The big crowds and unfamiliar culture may seem a bit intimidating for first-time visitors to Japan. But set aside any concerns, and you’ll find festivals like the Sumida toro nagashi to be a fascinating glimpse into Japan’s amazing culture. IMG_7934


The heat and humidity of summer are here, but people in Tokyo don’t let that stop them from having fun. Summer is a time of festivals and celebrations in Tokyo. And it a time for…fireworks!IMG_7601

The Japanese seem to love fireworks displays, and there are some impressive ones here. I recently observed one of the biggest – the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival.

They say this festival dates back to the 1700s, and it’s a popular one. Roughly a million people converge on the Sumida River area of Asakusa every year to see this remarkable event.

This year, the fireworks display had to be postponed a day. A little thing like a typhoon interrupted the festivities. But the typhoon passed, and the fireworks – originally scheduled for Saturday night – proceeded one day later on Sunday.

This year, I walked to the Asakusa area. There are trains that go there, and if you go early, it’s not a problem. But with so many people coming to the show, the trains get very crowded. And, be on notice – there is never a full train in Tokyo. You just push harder to get on. You’ll get to know your fellow passengers better than you might ever want to…

I walked around the Sumida River area for awhile, and crossed the bridge over the river. I found a street that was closed and people were beginning to settle in. Many bring blankets, coolers, and food. It’s a street party in every sense, with hundreds (thousands?) of people having a good time.

I made a good choice of locations. I had a (mostly) unobstructed view of the fireworks. I couldn’t see the river from my vantage point, but had a great view of the fireworks. And it was an amazing show, lasting a full hour.

Then, when the fireworks are over, you have a million people all trying to leave.

I quickly dismissed the trains – the line just to get in the train station stretched more than a block. So, I started walking towards home. The nice thing about Tokyo is that you can walk just about anywhere at night, and not feel unsafe. I walked along the train tracks, down past a few stations. And was able to find a station with almost no line. An easy commute home.

Tokyo’s summer festivals are often very crowded, and the heat can be intense. But bring some water, maybe a snack, and a lot of patience…and you’ll be rewarded with some amazing experiences.