18 September 2013

Sayonara Nihon!!

Right now we are at the airport waiting to board our flight.  The morning went smoothly. We caught our bus, arrive a little early to catch our train to the airport from te Yokohama station.  We arrived early enough at the airport to grab a little something to eat and to chillax.  While at the airport I took some origami pictures of the displays they had and just took time to reflect on the beauty and attention to detail that defines Japan.  
During my time here I also seem to have developed an obsession with the squat toilet .  I look for them wherever I go now.  As what seems to be a going away gift I found some at the airport.  The airport has 3 westerner sitting toilets and 3 squat toilets all the Asians there were waiting in line for the squat toilets.  I loved that it made me think about how it's more comfortable and natural for them just as he sitting toilets are comfortable and natural for us.  My curiosity for these toilets led me to research them especially how to use them.  First of all they are said to be healthier because when doing #2 the colon empties better with help of gravity and positioning.  I asked my sis-in-law was I supposed to take my pants off when using it and she seemed to think that was hilarious. "Erica, please do not take of your pants in the bathroom" I then flooded her with a ton of questions and she patiently explained to me what to do. So please allow me to share this info with you.  It was so simple that my "Ah-ha!" moment was major.  Just like in the US women don't sit on public toilet seats we just lower our pants to our knees and hover.  While using the squat toilet you do the same exact thing you just lower your backside lower and hover lower!!!  That's it!!! It's that simple!!!  The difficulty in this is that most Westerners are not flexible enough to get that low and stay.  So if you are from the Western Hemisphere and plan to visit the Eastern Hemisphere start squatting and stretching now! :-)
Our trip here has been sooo fantastic.  Somehow each day topped the day before.  I'm forever appreciative of my family and all the new friends I met.  We hope to return in the near future, there is so much that we still weren't able to see and do.  Next trip we plan to visit the Kabuki Theatre, take kimono/ samurai/ ninja pix and visit the small towns on the coast and countryside.  
Sayonara Nihon!  We love you and we will be back <3

17 September 2013

Wanderers are not always lost

After all the excited meant from the Sumo match yesterday I woke up ready for the world (literally) and ready to hit the streets.  The guys on the other hand were not ready for the world and not ready to hit the streets.  PoppaAlpha woke up with back pain and decided laying on the couch watching TV would be the best way for him to spend his day.  You know men... He had a comfy couch, a remote, and a couple of beers; his day was made!  I asked the boys if they wanted to join me running errands they declined. The promise of unlimited iPad and Nintendo 3DS usage under their dad's supervision was far more attractive than doing "girl things" with mom.  They declared it a "Boys only day" and much to my satisfaction I headed out on my own to buy our train tickets to get to the airport tomorrow and to buy last minute souvenirs.  The weather was perfect.  Cuñada-chan emailed info on how and where to buy the train tickets from work. She also included directions on how to get to a few discount stores near the Yokohama train station.  She recommended I buy my tickets from the teller since the machine could be a little confusing.  
After just a week here I felt comfortable in getting around the area.  I knew the bus to get on, the right train, the right stop, etc.  once at the Yokohama train station I began my search for the Narita Express ticket counter.  Whenever I asked for help, "Narita Express?!" People pointed me to the machine.  I took a deep breath and decided to try it out despite the risk of really screwing up something extremely important.  I started by pushing the "English Button" I followed the instruction and prompts and just like that, voila! I had 3 tickets from 9:39am leaving the Yokohama train station arriving at the Narita Airport for the following day!  Yippee!  I did it I was so proud of myself! 
Now that the most important (and costly) part if my day was taken care of I dd died to look for beautiful sensu (handheld fans) and Japanese handkerchiefs for my girls back home.  One thing I notice here  in the train or really anywhere where it was a little warm all the ladies arojnd me would pull out beautiful Japanese sensu and start fanning themselves. They'd seem to come out of nowhere and with a flick if their wrist they'd all open and start waving their beautiful piece of art.  Each time my initial thought would be "I want one toooo!"  If these beautiful super feminine women were sweating they'd crank up their swag meter by taking out a delicate Japanese handkerchief and start dabbing their faces.  Well I decided that I also wanted to be that pretty and feminine and getting own, and of course she the beauty of it all with my friends.
On my search for the discount store "Don Quijote" (I know funny,right!) I knew it was my time to do one of the things I most enjoy in my travels; roam freely.  
Wandering around accomplishes all types of things and this time my wandering didn't disappoint my first treasure was stumbling into a department store the first 5 levels were electronics.  What better place to look at electronics than the most technologically advanced country in the planet?!  This place was like Best Buy on steroids.  I as shocked however to see te prices were higher than in the US.  Zane and Dude have launched a full blown campaign for us to buy Dude a Nintendo 1DS and they are constantly showing me adds that price the game unit at $99.  Here the Nintendo 1DS was $150.  I was so happy they weren't with me to harass me and beg for it.   The next 5 floors up had large alliances, stereo equipment, TVs, every thing electronic that you could image in.  I went up so many escalators I lost track of how many to go back down to get out, luckily I was still able to get out of the same door I entered.  I keep walking and walking until I saw a store a store that said Family Center.  Surely they'll sell sensual there.  Nope it was just like a 7-11 grocery store.  On my way out I glanced over and saw the ice cream section.  Just the day before close family friend sent me a FB message telling me to try green tea ice cream; and whatayaknow, it was right there waiting for me, made my haggen-daas.  So now I'm walking down the street, wind blowing in my locks, eating the most delicious mix of green tea and ice cream flavored all packed in one!  I briefly stepped off the road to throw away the plastic ice cream bowl cover and as son as a turn back around I hear," excuse me, who does your locks here?" Asking this question as a very pretty jada pinkett petite sistah with a head full of beautiful dreadlocks of her own.  
I laughs from the pleasant surprise and reply,"I don't live here I'm just visiting." 
"Awh man! What are you don't here?"
I then went on the explain that in actually here with a family that didnt want to really the streets today, that we were visiting family, and it was our last full day in Japan.  For some reason it so rare seeing Westerners, especially Westerners of Africa descent that you're first question is  a cut to the chase "what are you doing here?!"  I loved the straight forwardness if being asked this on several occasions since vein here and returned the inquiry.  She in the other hand had lived in Japan for years her husband is Japanese and she just loves it there.  The best part of our conversations was that she, Najwa, was from Atlanta, not too far from where I live, was a spell a graduate.  I love when I meet a neighbor on the other side of the  planet.  We chatted excitedly about what I've  done, eaten, and gone.  Before parting I remembered to ask her where I could find don quijote or sensu.  She knew exactly where to go and offered to take me.  We headed off walking still chatting like long lost friends.  In the store she asked the clerks in Japanese where to find sensual and we headed off.  Before leaving me at the store she gave me her email address and FB name.  I think it'll be great to keep in touch with her and hopefully see her again either in Japan or the US. 
I finally found some sensu but to the cute delicate kind this were wooden and clumsy.  So the search continued.  I roamed and roamed, suddenly I found myself in a high end department store.  I asked and elevator operator, "sensu?"  She then started talking full speed in Japanese.  I only caught 2 words sensu and kimono and she opened her palm touching it with her pointer finger.  I knew that was the Japanese hand gesture for the number six.  Ok, soooo I'm assuming they are on the sixth floor in the kimono section...? I went up to the aixth floor an there they were amazingly beautiful Sensu... For 4500¥ ($45) each!!!! Whoa momma, there was not way I was getting those.  I needed something in between clumsy wood and professional geisha sensus, the search continued.  The fashion in Tokyo is the best.  Of all the cities I think their fashion style best suits their cultural personality it ranges from kimono elegance to futuristic anime style.  It just uniquely Japanese, no other place like it.   
So back to the street I went in and out of stores? Up and down escalators, in and out of streets.  I run into a Japanese guy with beautiful long dreadlocks.  I couldn't resist asking him for a pic.  He accepted and blushed at the request. 
By now is been on the move for about 5 hours!!! I decided to grab a quick bite to eat. By oi know I had to go to Mickie D's to see if they sold a McSushi or something.  I didn't see that in the menu but I did remember Cuñada-chan mentioning how much she liked the teriyaki mcburger so I order that with fries, the largest freakin' order of fries I've ever seen.  It was like 2 super-sized fries connected side by side.  I took my food up to the hidden upstairs seating area and got on viber to check in with my guys still in the apartment.  They were just fine.  As a looked aroun I noticed  just about everyone around me (adult and child) was playing a video game either on a Nintendo 3DS, PSP, or their phone.  Only in Japan!!! They were definitely in their zones.  
Once again on the move I was able to find one hello kitty sensu and a couple of cute tiny Japanese-style pouches.  No handkerchief and no Japanese- style sensu. :-( I the sun was setting and I decided to head home.  I went to te correct platform, waited for the limited express train, and headed home in the most of rush hour crowds.  As soon as I stepped  out of the train station to catch the bus I was in neon lights the store name "apita".  That's the first first store Cuñada-chan had mentioned but I didn't see it earlier before heading to by the train tickets. I rushed in there headed for the kimono sections and found beautiful. 500¥ ($5) sensu and previous 400¥ ($4) handkerchiefs and clutch purses.  I racked up and got everything I need for people back home.  This also have me a chance to get rid of some yen coins.  
As soon as I got home I was exhausted.  Bro came home and he, Dude, and I picked up a-chan from daycare and back home.  Bro then took alphapoppa and Zane to a yakatori spot (AlphaPoppa's new favorite food).  
Cuñada chan came home from work and starters preparing herself and A-chan for bed and for the next day.  I'm going to miss them soooo much.  Every time we see its other its great but this time was simply the best.  It was heart- warming to see the boys play so well as cousins and to spend time with cunada-chan and we sister.  Even if we weren't related by marriage I would chose them as friends, there is nothing better than that!  Tomorrow we head back home so unpacked our bags, laid out our travel clothes, and we all went to bed. 

16 September 2013

Typhoon, sushi, and Sumo

In addition to it being a public holiday here it also is the day that the weather forecasters are predicting a typhoon.  Now the very mention of the word typhoon makes me think if a hurricane that could put New Orleans' Katrina to shame.  It's jus SOUNDS scary like imminent death and distraction all packing in a violent storm.  After asking and googling the definition of a typhoon I gathered that it is very much a stormthat ranges   in strength from tropical storm to full blown hurricane.   I'm the type of girl who likes to experience things mother nature's wrath is not on my bucket list, but I always seem to get right there in te mix.  Smoking volcanoes, forest fires, earthquakes, torrential downpours, I seem to find them all in my travels.  The wind gust during the typhoon today rattled and banged the apartment's sliding glass doors, it actually made me a little nervous.  I could see the trees swaying from side to side and even though nothin was physically hitting the glass sliding doors that lead to the balcony it sounded as if chairs were being tossed at them in an attempt to shatter them.  
During our time confides to the house waiting for the typhoon to pass Cuñada-chan took the opportunity to teach Zane how to make sushi.  He actually did a great job.  The ingredients included rice (of course), crab, shrimp, egg, and avocado. I took lots of picks and in sure hell be asking me to let him make sushi when we get back home.
The weather forecast estimated that the storm would have completely cleared our area by noon.  Before arriving here I was determined to realize one of my life long dreams... to see a real life Sumo wrestling match in Japan.  I searched online and coincidentally during our stay here was the beginning of a week longSumo  tournament with the tickets costing $40-up.  Look I don't have to have to best seats in the house to hang, shoot, as long as I'm in be building I'm good!  Cuñada-chan helped me purchase the tickets from the Japanese website and we were  proud owners of 5 sumo match tickets!   Once news that the typhoon would hit on the same day as the match we were a little concerned, the tickets are non-refundable and the truth of the matter is that we really wanted to go.  Bro had to work so we decided that the extra ticket would go to Yuko.  The four adults and Zane would have seats, the two little ones got in free and could sit in our laps. At noon as predicted the weather cleared up.  The rain stopped and the wind still blew but at a reasonable strength.  We got dressed and headed out on our hour and a half journey to the Sumo arena.  
I felt like a child at an amusement park for the first time.  When we got off he train at our final destination sumo wrestlers were strolling into the train station I. Their robes and Sumo flip flop.  I love it!  Even Yuko had  to laugh at me.  Our seats were not on he floor or even up close but they were perfect!  We had a great view and the atmosphere was like no other .  The matches were much more like a tournament with the day starting out with lesser known sumos fighting their matches and ending with the championship well- known fighters sealing the deal.  It was so enjoyable.  We can all honestly say it exceeded our expectations.  The ceremonies and cultural/ historic rituals before each match were graceful and heart felt.  I thought I'd faint from excitement.  We were all smiling SO big and flyer the match Zane and Dude recreated a Sumo round for us.  It was hilarious!  
Today was a monumental day for me. I've wanted this since I was small.  It was just crazy and outlandish to think it could ever happen.  If we look at life in black and white it never should have but I have a belief that I live my life by the negates all of that, during or lifetime we can do, be, have whatever we want.  But it doesn't come for free, the price is courage.  Often times we must walk blindly in faith that it will all work out if and only if we are brave enough to plant our feet on the next step without seeing where the rest of the staircase goes. The universe will conspire to provide you a life of your wildest dreams only if you have trust and believe that as you seek it? It is also seeking you.  As this serve as reaffirmation for me I hope it also does for you.  I will continue to reach for he thinks that call out to my spirit and I encourage you rondo the same, especially if it seems impossible.  I have learned that nothing in this life is impossible even the word itself tells us I'm  possible, all I can do is agree and say, yes we are!

15 September 2013

Eat your heart out Tokyo! What a magical night!

Sunday started out slow but today was probably the first day that we didn't feel jetlagged.  AlphaPoppa woke up playful with a big ole smile, Dude and Zane were rocking and rolling with their cousin A-chan, I was still trying to hide in the bed, Cuñada-chan and Yuko were chatting away and laughing in Japanese and bro was in front of the TV waiting for the Mayweather- Canelo boxing match to start on pay per view.  Our Sunday morning was Still Las Vegas' Saturday night.  Without verbally expressing it the men made it clear that they wouldn't be moving from the TV until the flight was over.  Cuñada-chan and Yuko decided to make a traditional Japanese lunch and needed to make a grocery store run (not the 7-11) for a few of the ingredients.  I definitely was not going to pass up a chance to go to the grocery store.  
This grocery store was bigger than the 7-11 but not huge like grocery shopping in the US.   The carts were like the ones I've seen at Whole Foods, with just 2 small baskets in a small push cart.  I picked up Alpha Poppa's new favorite drink that he's discovered here in Japan.  I also got Dude's favorite drink, sushi for Zane and a little snack plate for me.  My snack plate had a potato patty, one meatball, a rice and a  triangular  shaped spinach ball and a tuna rice ball.  I was so happy to be able use my debit card amny places don't accept it. Here when you make a purchase they give you back your items along with a grocery bag and they direct you to the bagging area where you pack your own groceries.  

It was drizzling all morning and the weather forecast indicated that the light rain was the beginning of a typhoon expected to hit our area on Monday.  
Once we got home we took the kids back to the play area.  My sisters headed back to the apartment early to get started in lunch, okonomiyaki.  I had not idea what okonomiyaki was.  The dictionary translates it as a Japanese pancake which only captures a fraction of what it really is.  In a bowl they mixed flour, shrimp, cabbage, and ginger then cook it like a pancake with a beef strip bottom.  Once both sides are cooked they cover if with okonomiyaki sauce, mayo, and sprinkle dried fish bits on top. It was really good, we all ate well.  After we cleaned up a little we started to head out for the day's adventure.  The guys wanted to go look at motorcycle and car parts at a Suzuki sealed and we (the ladies) wanted to head to downtown Tokyo to see the heart of the city.  The guys were driving and we were in the train.  The boys wanted to on with their dads, which actually worked out better than us dragging them around the crowded downtown are.   We were so happy to not have the boys the we made a very quick escape!  
First stop Shibuya Square.  The best way to describe it is like NYC's Time Square, but different.  The main intersection is known as the scramble intersection because it joins about 5 streets.  As son as the lights changes red pedestrians flood the streets crossing in every direction.   I took pictures like crazy.  Yuko may have taken even more than me!  We walked around and I soaked it all in, and it was a lot.  So many neon signs in Japanese, stores, people, fashion, other tourist, tons of Toyko locals, music playing the thought the city.  Suddenly my sisters led me into a video arcade.  "Here is where we will take pictures!"  I knew exactly the type of pictures hey meant.  We stepped into the photo booths and came out 10 minutes later with pictures that made us look like anime-type Barbie dolls.  It was unlike anything I'd ever done!  It was just hilarious and fun.  We then stepped into the arcade and played a Japanese drum video game where you have to pound the drum on queue and in rythmn to the song.  It was a giggle fest!
After the arcade we walked around downtown a bit, the neon signs are just unbelievable.  We went into a 100Yen store (it's a $1 equivalent).  We picked up little cheap toys for or kids, snacks, and other ridiculous things.  By the time we gr back to the street it was dark and the signs and lights were even more enchanting.  
The gua called us and old ya that were all sleepy and were dreaded taking the kids in the train to meet us for dinner with Cuñada-chan and Yuko's mom.  We decided to order them a pizza and meet for dinner without them.  
Our dinner date was in the Ginza district of Tokyo.  This place was all class.  We took pictures in front of the kabuki theatre then headed over to a modem sushi restaurant.  Since our last dinner date was traditional Japanese we decided on modern Japanese this time. 
Unsurprisingly their mom was a joy.  She's been studying English for a few years and speaks very very well.  She and her daughters have a very special relationship the kind that I think every mom wants with their adult children.  We laughed, we talked, we ate and to top it off as a gift their mom gave me a beautiful gold necklace.  I mean REALLY beautiful REALLy gold necklace.  I was speechless.  Arigato did not seem sufficient for such a beautiful piece of jewelry and the kindness that inspired it.  I am forever thankful for that token of friendship, family, and generosity.  
Since Cunada-chan and I had kids to get home to we headed out whole her mom and sister went to another spot, they weren't ready to go home yet.  Ha!
All kids and AlphaPoppa were knocked-out in our bed and Bro was up on his laptop and watching TV.   We all quickly got ready for bed and hit the sack.  It was a fantastic magical day.