Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Japan: Hiroshima 11 - Crab Restaurant & Nagarakawa

Tonight Lance took me to the mother of all Crab restaurants. One look at the entrance of the restaurant says it all:

It was in an area called Nagarakawa. There's a street full of restaurants, karaoke, and bars. And it's only a 10 minute walk from our apt.

Side note: Nagarakawa is hopping with nightlife. The streets are lined with well dressed women and men that look like there are going to prom (long dresses, silver stilettos, furs and animal prints). Lance thinks they are hookers with their pimps. I'll need to verify with my Japanese sensei tomorrow.

The meals here in Japan not only in small portions, but they come in sets (like a McDonald's value meal). These sets are tiny appetizer sized portions of food that are already put together from appetizer to dessert. It's like a 10 course meal that keeps coming out with no end. Thankfully there is no tipping here, otherwise the servers would never be able to turn tables.

We ordered a couple of a la cart items including crab dumplings and crab cakes. The set included boiled and roasted King crab, crab soup, crap nabu, boiled Snow crab, crab rice...I sound like Bubba. We did a learn a valuable lesson - found out we hate crab sashimi. It is slimy and I didn't even know that raw crab could be eaten til now. Our dumpling steamer had little fire under it. So when the waitress wasn't looking, we slipped all the raw meat into it and cooked it ourselves.

Side note: I verfied w/sensei and she said the women and men dressed up in Nagarakawa are called "bar hostesses." They are trying to get patrons into their bars where you would pay money to sit down, pay for expensive drinks and they persuade you to keep buying things. The women keep you company and the bars are frequented by business men after work. The men on the streets w/the hostesses are their guards....kinda like a strip club without the strippers.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Japan: Hiroshima 10 - Crash and Hondori

Picture 1: snapshot of part of Hondori. Check out Little Bo Peep on the right. Don't ask.

Picture 2: Now we know where Bo Peep got her outfit.

Picture 3: Japanese Goth. Left one is a man's outfit. I know what to buy Lance for Christmas!

Due to the demands of my fans (both of them). They have requested I acknowledge and post a
quote about my accident the other day. Here it is:

"I crashed my bike. It hurt. I am still in pain."

Ok, enough said. No more talk about the accident.

Today I went to Honduri. This is the name of a street that refers to a huge shopping area in downtown. It's similar to an outdoor/indoor mall. Tons of stores and people. There are high end shops right next to 100 Yen or streetwear stores. There are also many foreigners. Though, most everyone here thinks I am Japanese. I have been accosted and held hostage by sales people in the hopes that I am dumb enough to buy a $30 dinner plate. Almost did. Then I open my mouth and I can see their expression transistion from hopeful to one of disappointment, that I am in fact a stupid American. Speaking of which I was a bit homesick today. Nothing McDonald's won't cure. Had a double cheeseburger meal w/fries. Tasted the same to me and it was $5.30 Not bad.

Under this plethora of shopping, there is also underground shopping! Yes, another vulnerable opportunity to go in debt! It's great. Lance has implemented shopping control in the form of a really small bike basket. He says it keeps me from buying things because I can only take home as much as my bike can carry....I'm thinking of installing 2 more in the back.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Japan: Hiroshima 9 - Language

We've been taking Japanese lessons since before we moved here. Japanese is made up of 3 different forms of writing. The joys! First there is Hiragana which is roughly 100 combinations of vowels and consonants. Then there is Katagana which sounds exactly like Hiragana, but uses different symbols. I have no idea why. Lance claims there is a conspiracy to confuse foreigners. Katagana is mainly used to distinguish foreign words that the Japanese have adopted like ice-cream or even our names in Japanese. Lastly there is Kanji, which are chinese characters. Lucky for us, they mix these 3 forms of writing together. It is a slow learning process to say the least, and everything sounds the same.

Side note: My favorite word is reizoko. I told Lance if we get a Japanese pet I'd want to name it reizoko. It means refridgerator. We could call it zoko for fridge.

Many people can understand a little bit of English and when paired w/our spastic hand gestures, it goes a long way. So it works pretty well. Some restaurants have an English menu when asked. Incidentally, Lance went to a restaurant where someone had translated it into English for them. One of the items was chicken a**holes. Either the translator was trying to be funny, or he had no idea what it was and made it up. To my knowledge, the only chicken a**holes that exist are the chicken rings from White Castle.

Japan: Hiroshima 8 - Book & 100 Yen stores

Lance and I love to read and have a found a great bookstore that takes up an entire floor of a department store that is connected to the train station. They have one long aisle dedicated to books in English. It's a pretty good selection and includes popular books like Da Vinci code and Harry Potter. There are even recent publications of National Geographic, Time and the sorts. The drawback is of course the cost. A $6 paperback in the States will cost you about $10-15 here. I'll find out if ordering thru Amazon is worth the extra shipping costs....

100 Yen stores:
Before I moved to Japan, a friend of mine told me I will love the 100 Yen shops. These are equivalent to $1 shops! Yeah, finally something cheap! They sell alot more than the $1 stores back home. We even bought our wine glasses there...considering we have don't have plates yet, clearly our priorites are in the right place.

Japan: Hiroshima 7 - Outfits/Trends and Shopping

The shopping here is incredible. Similar to other Asian countries, one single deparment store can be 12 floors high. And VERY expensive. For example, the Coach stores here havethe same purses as in the U.S. but are priced at $100 -$300 more. The purse Lance bought for me for my birthday in Michigan, retails for $600 here! No wonder all those Japanese toursits go nuts and bulk buy when they go to the States.

The trendy outfits in Hiroshima are tiny mini skirts. Especially the pleated ones, with tall boots. And little shrugs w/fur collars. All women are dressed very nicely, whether it is for business or to look trendy. And most wear skirts. The trendy stores play loud American rap music, expletives and all. The nicer stores play American Christmas music (If I have to hear what Mariah Carey wants for Christmas one more time....).

Also for some reason, it seems like %60 of the women I see are pigeon toed. Not sure if this is a learned trait or maybe it's just cool. It's alarming, I dont' know how they walk..they all drag their stilettoed feet pigeon toed. And it is strange to feel tall here, but at 5'4" , I do.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Japan: Hiroshima 6 - Beautiful views of the city

I did some exploring and went biking on my own. It is about 50-60 degrees right now. Check out some these beautiful images of the city:

City View.

The A-Bomb Dome in Peace Memorial Park. This building was left standing to remind people of what the atomic bomb destruction did and keep global peace.

City's waterways. There are 6 rivers that run thru the city. Hiroshima makes me think of Amsterdam.

Upscale stores. It's not a city without Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Armani. Where do these people get their money????

Traditional Japanese Kimonos. They were priced between $1,000-$3,000 each. Again, how can they afford it?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Japan: Hiroshima 5 - Gyms, pet stores and electronics oh my!

Picture 1 - Lance on the popular weight loss machine. Call me crazy but don't think it'll work. It's like owning a mechanical bull in your living room.

Picture 2 - 65" Plasma TV

As part of Ford expatriate benefits, they will cover gym membership and annual cost in Hiroshima. That's nice you think, til you see the cost of joining...then you realize it is really $%&* nice! The gym we are joining is super sweet. But it's not worth what they are charging. To get memebership started, we will need to pay $5,000 for both of us. That's not a typo. There is a $2,000 deposit, a $1,500 annual cost, plus $5.25 everytime you use it and $46 for guests. If I were Japanese, I'd rather sit at home and get fat.

Pet stores:
Lance took me to an incredible pet store here! They sell everything like piranhas, and beetles the size of North America. Ok, that's exaggerating. They're Texas sized. There was a $2,000 fish, Harry Potter's owl, and Ross' monkey from Friends.

Electronic stores:
The one we have visited most is DEO DEO. It is 6 floors filled w/electronic goodies. Everything comes in fun colors. You can buy a pink or yellow fridge, neon vaccum cleaner and irons come in every color of the rainbow. The digital cameras and cell phones are amazing. My cell phone has GPS and a 3 megapixel camera. (In our Mazda, the GPS screen can also tune into TV and we can change TV channels in the car) Although the electronics in the store were cool, we soon realized all menus and interfaces are in Japanese. And we had to buy the least complicated models = the least cool.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Japan: Hiroshima 4 - Grocery shopping

The Grocery stores have a large selection of pre-made foods. And aisles and aisles dedicated to noodles. Their produce is interesting…things like bell peppers are super tiny like the size of a small tangerine. Other stuff like leeks and green onions are super thick and 3 feet long. Cantaloupe is considered a very nice gift. They are sold in cellophane boxes and I’ve seen them anywhere from $18 - $44 for one. Everything is sold in small portions, much like Europe. All restaurants give the perfect amount of food that will fill, but not stuff you. The grocery carts are like the toy ones you had when you were little. Feels like "pretending" to grocery shop.

Hiroshima is mainly a cash society. Beware if you use your credit card, they'll ask how you want to break down the number of payments to your credit card. Much like financing, the store can charge your credit card anyway you want, even if you want to pay $20 in 4 installments.

After check out, they give you like 1 plastic bag for every 10 items and you bag it yourself at a long row of tables in front of the cash registers. There are no baggers in grocery stores. On the other end of the spectrum, clerks in department stores will wrap your purchases 2-3 times in paper and small bags before giving it to you in a larger plastic bag which they tape closed. No wonder the trash system is needed...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Japan: Hiroshima 3 - Garbage and Toilets

The garbage system here is something else. The thing about Japan is that it is insanely clean! That is the first impression you will notice when you arrive. The irony? There is no litter on the streets, yet you cannot find a public trash can. You will see no graffitti or smell stinky trash anywhere.

So how does this affect home life - try separating your own trash into 8 different types. We have 5 trash cans in our kitchen. Trash is picked up daily. We have to put it out before 8:30am, but cannot put it out the night before. Certain types of trash have designated days. We don't dare mess up because the Trash Nazis are ready to fingerpoint if you so much as place a tiny piece of paper in plastics. Lance swears they open the bags just for the pleasure of it.
The types of trash are as follows: Combustible garbage, PET bottles (plastic), Recyclable plastics, Other plastics, Incombustible garbage, Recyclable garbage, Toxic garbage, and Large garbage. Ya, good luck, we'll need it.

My other favorite thing about our apartment are our toilets. Some Japanese toilets have bidets. Ours have heated seats! Big deal you think, until you've sat down on a toasty seat with temperature control. You'll want to settle down with a magazine or take a nap.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Japan: Hiroshima 2 - Our Apartment and Parking

I love our apartment because it is so convenient. This is the first time I've ever lived in a city. We live in downtown Hiroshima and are only a couple blocks away from the shopping district and restaurants. It is only an 8 minute walk to the train station.

The apartment is a very nice 2 bedroom, 2 bath apt, in the Shukkeien Park area. We don't have all our furniture yet. I plan to order more this week. We don't have couches, until our air and sea shipments get here. Which will take about 2 months. Rent is ridiculous as you probably imagine. It is approximately $4,200/mo. Thankfully we get expatriate benefits to help us with part of it. (See pic of washing machine, can it be any smaller?)

The best way to go is to walk or bike everywhere (check out our sweet bike pic). There are taxis galore or we drive our bright blue Mazda 3. Most cars in Japan are either white, silver or black. We stick out like a sore thumb. Parking is rather interesting. The parking garages are the coolest thing I've ever seen! The system is a cross between an elevator and conveyer belt. Basically you pull into a one car garage over a rotating floor, park and get out. The floor drops and your car is swallowed into a series of other shelved cars. When you want your car, you punch in a code and watch the floor open and the cars rotate til it finds yours and brings it up. Then it rotates around so you can drive right out...very a la James Bond.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Japan: Hiroshima 1 - Moving to Hiroshima

Today I moved to Hiroshima to join my husband, Lance. He was transferred to Japan 3 months ago to work at Mazda. The flight was 13 hours long on Northwest Airlines, since they have direct flights from Detroit to Osaka. Then we had to hop on a 2 leg, 2 hour train ride to Hiroshima. Which is really really difficult when you're jet lagged (Japan is 14 hours ahead of EST). The first train ride is 1/2 hr long from the airport to Shin-Osaka (Osaka's train station). Then we had to switch trains to get on the Shinkansen. The Shinkansen btw, is AWESOME! They are the bullet trains that run thru Japan that can reach top speeds of over 200 mph. The sound standing next to it is like something you've never heard.

Tonight, we grabbed some quick bites at a night market and went to an American bar close by.