Thursday, August 31, 2006

Eating Japan.

While we were staying in the hotel in Hita we would start every day with a traditional Japanese breakfast: A piece of juicy grilled fish, fresh miso soup, steamed rice, homemade tofu, assorted vegetables and steaming pots of green tea. At first I really missed the five-pound bacon slab and monster omelette I was used to having every morning at home, but then I realized how much healthier these traditional breakfasts were. I didn't have to undo the buttons on my jeans even once or wash the whole thing down with a bottle of Mylanta.

There wasn't a formal restaurant in the hotel, so our room numbers would be handlettered on a sign in front of one of three large tatami rooms on the second floor. All of my family plus our relatives that were staying in the hotel (you know, the ones that had driven three hours just to see us) would sit and have breakfast together. I really, really miss those mornings.

We took an hour drive up into the hills one night to have dinner at the Sapporo Beer factory. They had an enormous restaurant that specialized in teppan-style cooking, where they bring out big platters of raw meat and vegetables and you cook it all yourself on grills built into the tables. When I saw them bringing out all those endless platters of beef I almost dropped to my knees in gratitude. Rigel managed to hold it together until they announced that there was unlimited beer, and then, well, he just cried like a baby.

Everywhere we went we saw these quaint little pastry shops, selling the most delicious, delicate little cakes and cookies you can imagine.

At this particular shop they had some tiny little cakes that were beautifully wrapped in rice paper and then set into small handmade baskets. I started loading six or seven of these things onto the counter to bring back as gifts, until my cousin pointed out that by the time I got them back to the U.S. they would be moldy puddles of goo. I strongly advised that they get with the program and start loading up their baked goods with preservatives and chemicals like we do in America, where a loaf of bread has a longer shelf life than a bottle of bleach.

The fruit in the supermarket is so beautiful it looks absolutely unreal. I wanted to take this entire display home, shellac it and set it up my living room. But then my sister reminded me that since a single apple costs fifty-dollars over there, this piece of pop-art would end up setting me back about three million dollars.

Since Rigel was pretty blasé about all the food displays, I was surprised when he expressed an interest in buying some of these. Until I pointed out that they were not, in fact, breasts that were wrapped in cellophane. He insisted on buying some, though, and I have to say I was very impressed with how they helped fill out my halter top.

Next up: The Dinner Cruise or How Our Relatives Managed To Outdo Themselves And Make Us Feel Even Worse About The Time We Took Them To Tony Roma's For Dinner.

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Monday, August 28, 2006

So Relative.

When our relatives from Japan have visited in the past, they usually contact my mom first, who then gets on the phone and tries desperately to see which of her five, no-good, lazy children will help her out with hosting duties, such as picking them up from the airport, arranging accommodations or sightseeing tours. After hearing one too many lame excuses about busy work schedules or American Idol finales that couldn't be missed, she'll mutter a few choice words in Japanese (my mom is also fluent in English but only curses in Japanese) and then tell us, "Oh, don't bother. I'd hate for you to miss one of your fancy dinner parties just to spend time with your relatives that flew halfway around the world to see you."

Then she arranges a bus tour for them to Disneyland, or drops them off on Rodeo Drive with a couple of Starbucks coupons and a map to the stars' homes. At some point we'll all get together for a meal or a brief outing, but for the most part we usually act as if these special guests were just neighbors that had popped over unexpectedly to borrow the garden hose.

Which is why we were so very humbled and, well, embarrassed by the attention and consideration by our relatives when we got to Japan. I should mention that there were twelve of us that made the trip over from the U.S. (my family of four, my 85-year-old mom, my sister, brother, three nephews and two nieces), so just figuring out transportation for our unruly bunch and our five-hundred pieces of luggage was sort of like trying to stuff twelve clowns into a Volkswagen. My cousin Yoko and her daughter met us at the airport, along with a couple of other relatives that brought along their friends to pick us up. Five cars in all. It got Rigel and I thinking that were we to make the same request to our friends at home, "How about dropping everything to go to the airport late at night to help us pick up our relatives that you've never met?" there would first be silence, then hysterical laughter and then inquiries as to what we'd been smoking.

Three or four different families had gotten together to plan and pick up the tab for our stay there. This included first-rate hotel accommodations, transportation and most of our meals, not to mention constant hand-holding and translation duties so that none of us ended up trying to hail a pastry cart instead of a taxi or asking for turpentine when what we wanted was a cup of coffee. Did I mention the private bus (with driver) that they rented to take us around for the six days we were with them?

I'm not sure how we can ever repay them for all they did for us, but we'll have a chance to redeem ourselves since a few of them are planning to come to the U.S. to attend my brother's wedding early next year. We're already prepared to clear our schedules for at least two weeks, and I'm trying my best to be strong and keep reminding myself of all the sacrifices that they made for us. Because their visit? Coincides exactly with the last two, crucial weeks of American Idol.

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Room With A View.

We started our trip on the island of Kyushu, in Southern Japan. Our first six days were spent with our relatives in a small town called Hita, which is a sort of resort town visited primarily by locals. Our traditional, Japanese- style hotel overlooked the lake and had tatami rooms and sliding shoji screens. I may be partial but I definitely preferred it to the last Sheraton we stayed at back in California, the one that had the fuzzy, nautical-themed wallpaper and the body-shaped stain in the hallway.

On one of the nights, our air conditioning wasn't working properly so they transferred us to the 'Special Suite' that had this private hot tub and shower on the balcony. I was exhausted and went straight to bed, but Rigel was out there for long time, turning it into his own private man-spa. Since there were few tourists in this town, I told him he was lucky that the sight of a 6'2" naked white man prowling the balcony didn't prompt any phone calls to the local police or bring out a torch-carrying mob. I mentioned this to my aunt the next morning and she said, "Omoshiroi!" I'm not sure, but this either means "That's funny!" or "You Americans are all perverts."

Upon arrival at the hotel, all the women are taken to a small store in the hotel to pick out a kimono that you can wear during your stay. I loved seeing the girls dressed in these, even though Kira insisted on wearing her, "I'd Rather Be Partying" t-shirt under hers, and Kiyomi kept flashing her panties everytime she started showing everyone her ninja kicks. And me? I wore one, too, except when Rigel started referring to me as his Geisha and making me walk three feet behind him, I took it off and started beating him about the head with it.

Next up: The food. And more food. Oh, and then there's the food.

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Monday, August 21, 2006

My Japan Post(s).

For me, the biggest problem with writing a vacation post is that I can't help feeling like I'm holding you all hostage in my living room, showing you my five-hour slide show on Japan while you sit there, numb and too polite to protest, sipping your watery drink while I yell for Rigel to bring out that last gallon of onion dip.

But I want to write about it here, not so much for blogging interest as to somehow capture our trip before I forget about it and it becomes just another pile of pictures and souvenirs stashed away in my drawer. So, in all fairness I have to warn you that the next few posts will be about my trip, but they'll be in small bites, making it easier for you to skim through. That way, if you do feel like you've had enough, you can yawn politely, put down your drink and back slowly out the door while I'm distracted loading up that twelfth carousel of slides. I promise I won't be offended.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

More Posts On My Trip To Japan Since You All Asked Nicely Or You Didn't Stop Me:

Not Lost In Translation

Tokyo Starbucks

Room With A View

So Relative

Eating Japan

Buy, Buy Japan
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Tokyo Starbucks.

While ordering a coffee the other day I was using my elementary Japanese to try and explain that I wanted only a small amount of milk in my cappuccino. I used a variety of words and lame pantomime to indicate 'small,' 'little' and 'few.' After a few minutes I wasn't sure what I was saying, but I'm sure with my bad Japanese I had probably inadvertently told the barista that her ass was wide and her mother had a beard. Finally, a look of recognition crossed her face and she said to me, "Oh! You mean you want a dry cappuccino?"

Hey - let me know if you can't view the video.)

Note: A dry cappuccino is one made with less milk than foam. And if you were a coffee nerd like me, you would have known that.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Not Lost In Translation.

It's 1:15am in Kyoto. I've had little time and energy to post since we arrived in Japan. It's been an amazing trip, mostly due to the extreme kindness and generosity of our many relatives, who have gone out of their way to make this an unforgettable journey for us.

I think this picture sums it up. This is Kiyomi with her third (or is it fourth?) cousin, Maiyu, who we met for the first time. (She's five, and the last time we saw her mother was when she visited Los Angeles ten years ago.) Maiyu and her mother came to pick us up at the airport when we arrived, and these two bonded instantly and were inseparable for our five days with them, despite the fact that Kiyomi doesn't speak a word of Japanese and Maiyu, not a word of English.

I will post more later, and try and post a fraction of the ten thousand photos I've taken so far. Tomorrow we hop on a bullet train for Tokyo. I haven't lost anything yet except for a tank top, and the permanently pained look on my face is because I stapled my passport to my stomach to avoid leaving it on a train seat or in a restaurant restroom.

Oh, and I found out I'm related to Yoko Ono. I'm not sure what to do with this information yet, except to say that if any relative of mine was responsible for breaking up The Beatles, I'm sorry.

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