Friday, March 30, 2012

Trains!

By our third day I was starting to feel settled in.  I bought some groceries the day before and finished unpacking.  I decided I was ready for the first time the kids and I ride the train alone.  We opted to go visit Eric at work for a nice long lunch (or so we thought).

Getting to the station was easy and I felt confident.  It takes less than 5 minutes to walk to our station from our place.  I was also excited to find out the kids would be free on the train this entire trip!

My Suica card was ready to go. Suica is a magnetic card you put money on and works as cash at many locations in Japan.  It is especially useful for the trains. When traveling by train, the card is swiped to enter the station where you started and again to exit wherever you end (or if you switch lines to a train run by a different company).  That way it knows how much to charge you and who to give the money to.

I swiped my card and went down the stairs to get on our train.  We got on the correct train to Shibuya...so far so good!  Apparently my card did not register back at the first station and when I swiped my card in Shibuya the gate did not open to let me get to the other side.  I had a little moment of panic and texted Eric.  He told me to go to the information window by the gate and I did.  I wasn't sure the worker would understand me, but in faith, I explained what happened.  He did something on his computer and I was through.  Phew.  Just cost us a couple minutes, no biggie.  

The train station by our house
The sign that tells us when our train is coming.  It also shows us in English 

We got on our second train (at Shibuya station) feeling good about being on our way to see Eric.  


At this point I was feeling good.  Except for the slight hiccup with the card swiping, I was doing it!  "I am woman!"

Then about 25-30 minutes into our ride I thought it was a little funny we were not seeing Eric's stop or even the one before it, he had told me to watch for.  So I texted Eric.  I said "we're in Yokohama".  The text I got back said...

 "??? What was your last stop?  I think that is way past me??"

"Well that can't be good", I thought.   At the next stop, we got off.  In the meantime, Eric used a handy internet site and figured out how we could still get to him from where we were (like the lady in the GPS who says "recalculating route").

We would end up at a different train station which was somewhat close to him, and he would walk to meet us.  Sweet Eric took his whole lunch helping his lost family and figuring out where we needed to go.   The train ride back to get closer to him took about 20 minutes.  We got off that train and I was so excited to see Eric.  At this point, we had 20 minutes before he had to get back, so we grabbed a bagel and walked him back to work at a brisk pace (since it was a 20 minute walk away!).  We talked about how next time, I'd be an expert getting back to his work and he showed us where we could relax and catch our breath.  We said goodbye and looked around for a place to eat.

The kids were a little tired and hungry so I let them choose where to eat.  Subway was the winner.

And my choice was Starbucks, although the kids didn't mind either
Happy again!

We took a few minutes while I finished my drink outside and obviously the kids were having a great day.  They got to ride the train for a long time =), see their dad, and get treats.




On the way back home everyone else got off at one of the stops.  A kind man heard the kids saying "Shibuya" (the station we wanted) and came back on the train to motion me across the track to the right train (phew! and thank you God!)  Since then I am happy to report I have gotten on the correct train every single time (though it may have taken a few moments of thinking once or twice!)  ;-)




Thursday, March 29, 2012

Grocery Shopping Adventures

Another blessing we have received is a grocery store within walking distance. In fact, it's only two blocks away. The first day Eric went to work, I ventured off to the store with the kids. Out of our place, we turn right and head down the street.

The kids took at least a minute trying to figure out what pose they wanted to do for this picture. Ethan ended up with this one because he thought his friends would think it was really cool =).
Here is a picture of the outside. This is actually a mall and the grocery store is in the basement. This is common with other grocery stores around too.




So the first time I went was a little overwhelming. Take a look at this milk section for example. Which one would you pick? =)





Or soy sauce? Just because it is a dark liquid in a bottle, does not mean it is soy sauce. I still don't know what I bought that first day. Luckily, I have since gone back and struck gold =).



One thing I was excited about was yogurt. We eat a lot of it at home so I thought I'd stock up on some. I bought ten of these guys. The kids were excited as they had never had grape yogurt before. Um yeah, those were not yogurts. I think Eric decided to have one when he got home from work and suprise, it was jello. Oopsies! I also attempted to buy kitchen sized garbage bags and ended up with sandwich size bags. This kind of thing has happened a few times and we just laugh.



Here is Abby at our bagging station. Once we check out and pay for the groceries, we go to a seperate area and bag everything up.













This has been a great little store for us and I am so thankful!








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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Our Place

Here is a little video of the place that we've been blessed with while we're here.


video

Saturday, March 24, 2012

For Fun

On our first day here, Eric took the kids and I to the coolest little candy shop.  Not only do they sell fun candy, you can see them make it.  It's amazing the amount of detailed images and words they can get into each little piece.  They are based in Australia and added their first overseas store in Tokyo.
They put several layers together

Then they begin to pull...


...and pull the candy into thin strips

Here is the end result

The one they were actually making is pictured here.  It is the one that says "Sweet Heart."
 
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Takao-San

(A guest post by Eric)

Sarah is so proud of making it big time in the blogosphere...she loves saying she has a "guest blogger". We're all so proud of you hon.

Last Sunday we took advantage of a sunny day and went for a hike at Mt Takao ("Takao-san"). It's has many temples, and shrines set along beautiful hikes. I had been there once, a year ago, and wanted the family to see it. There is a spot I especially enjoy where a stone temple courtyard has been hewn out of the mountain next to a waterfall. I can picture the monks from hundreds of years ago meditating in this very special place.

It's a bit of a trek to get there (an hour and a half of various trains and line switches) but well worth it. Since I knew we'd be doing a hike which would be strenuous for E's and A's little legs we stocked up on snacks at a Lawson's (it's like a 7-11) and I carried goodies and drinks in a backpack for the day.

At the start of the hike these little guys are there to say "Gambatte"! Which means "You can do it!" or "Go!". In fact, an elderly hiker decked out in his gear patted E and A on the head, giving each of them high fives and saying "Gambatte!" to them. He thought they were very cute.

Starting up the trail!

Early on we passed a prayer shrine set around a little spring.


We hiked along this creek most of the day. It was very pretty.


Another prayer shrine. This one dug into the side of the hill.



This is the temple courtyard I mentioned. Very cool. If you look close you can see a few candles burning. We smelled incense at a few spots along the way. I think most of these are Shinto shrines meant to honor one's ancestors and seek guidance from them. I did also read people used to honor the spirits of the mountain as Takao was believed to be a holy mountain.


Part of the same courtyard.


After about an hour and a half of hiking up-hill and taking snack breaks we came to a series of steps. We can do it!



We did it! We're at the top! (E had troubles opening his eyes due to the sunlight)



We enjoyed the view of the outskirts of Tokyo and beyond.


After the top we hiked down the more popular side (since we knew we could get to a cable car to ride back down). On this side there are many temples and shrines. We really liked the ornate woodwork. You can also see sake barrels offered to the spirits of the mountain and ancestors at left.


The sun was bright but don't let it fool you...we were chilled. Thankfully the hiking kept our blood moving.



After all that hiking in the cold (by now 3 hours or more on our feet with LOTS of uphill hiking) Abby fell, scraped her hands and started to get frustrated. I turned and immediately walked away. Not to get away from her of course, but because I saw something I knew would bring smiles (even on a cold day!)



Sure enough...smiles all around. It was a yummy grape soft-serve. I know because she let me have a taste...she's a giver.


Of course, the big girl needed to be happy too! ;-) Sarah and I tried something a little warmer...Mochi balls dipped in a sort of soy-sauce and warmed up over coals. Yummy! (PS - Mochi is mushed up rice which gets slimy and gooey then formed into a ball.)


Once we were done eating we found the cable cars and rode them down followed by collapsing on the train for the ride back. Abby fell deep asleep and didn't even really wake up when I picked her up to switch trains. She earned it after a tough hike!!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Day 1 - Shrines, Ramen, and (lack of) Sleep

(Guest blog by Eric!)
After we made it safely to our apartment and I carted what seemed an entire battalion's worth of bags up to our 7th floor apartment (thankful for elevators!) Everyone went right to bed. Usually on my Asia trips I try to go out for a walk and dinner to stay up a bit, but E started full melt down mode in the apartment lobby and we knew that wasn't happening. The poor guy was exhausted and didn't want to move. So everyone went to bed at 8PM. I'm not gonna lie...that felt good. Well, until I got up with the kids at 2:20 AM because they were wide awake. I'm not gonna lie, that was a bummer. Thankfully after an hour I made them try to sleep again and they slept from 3:30 to 5:30. The next few days we saw AM wake-ups hit 4, then 4:40, then 5:50 and we've hovered at 6AM since then (a lot better than 2:30!)

Thankful for the early wake-up though as we got treated to a sunrise over Fuji out our apartment window!

I took the fam for a walk to the Cerulean in Shibuya for a nice American style buffet spread. I wanted everyone to start with some comfort food and get off on the right foot. We had waffles, french toast, fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee, and more. Yum.

Then I took Sarah to initiate her on her first official train experience in Japan. The trains in Tokyo are the way to get around and they are great, but the stations can be quite chaotic and confusing. Imagine a place more crowded than a busy day at Disneyland with people constantly bumping into you and about 12 tracks plus a few subway lines to choose from. It's important to know how to figure out which line you need (all the trains have line names) and in which direction. I wanted Sarah to get some practice before I went to work. This was confirmed when my Nike teammates said even they get mixed up and end up on the wrong train sometimes (but that's another post).

We took the train to the Harajuku station. It's a place with a lot of style and shopping as well as the Meiji shrine (a nice park-like grounds perfect for walking on this beautiful day).

The kids enjoyed cake-pops from Starbucks while we walked.


Abby found a hollowed out tree stump perfect for her little tushy.



Ethan wanted in on the fun.




Sarah gave it a go!



Meiji shrine was built as a sort of emperor's grounds in 1920. Wonder if the emperor had kids who enjoyed his fishing pond as much as E & A?


Enjoying the weather and culture!




After this we ended up at my favorite ramen place where we all had noodles. A great way to start out the trip! Didn't even phase us when I had to run up and down the street looking for an ATM so we could pay! ;-)