Monday, December 29, 2008

Bike Accommodations 3

Pedestrian overpasses have ramps to help you get your bike up and over.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Donuts for Drivers

These donut shaped indentations seem to be on every sloped driving surface here. I figured they were for traction, but I found the full-length nerdy explanation in a great column in The Japan Times called "So What the Heck is That?" You can read it here.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Bike Accommodations 2

People generally seem to ride their bikes on the sidewalks (and not wear helmets) despite the fact that under Japanese law bikes are considered vehicles. Along some major streets the sidewalk is divided into space for pedestrians and space for bicycles, and there are bicycle lanes in some crosswalks (called jitensha odantai).

I was excited when I first saw this, but have quickly learned that no one sticks to it, which is frustrating both as a pedestrian and as a cyclist. According to the Japan Times, "The government has now designated 98 communities around the nation as test areas, and experiments are under way to showcase and evaluate various means of creating safe space for cyclists so they don't have to ride on sidewalks." I hope they are successful in getting bikes back into the streets!

Bicycling laws were updated in June of this year, and the same Japan Times article shared some of the changes - "children under the age of 13 and anyone 70 or older may ride on any sidewalk, anywhere. Riders of all ages may continue to use sidewalks where signs permit but, in another change, any rider may move onto the sidewalk if road conditions feel unsafe (due to construction, for example). When on sidewalks, cyclists are expected to slow down and yield to foot traffic, which is interpreted by the police to mean that there should be no bell-ringing at pedestrians."

(and a very happy birthday Al!)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

and have a happy one too.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Costumes

I'm not exactly sure where people are wearing these, but there sure are a lot of santa, elf, and reindeer costumes available in the department stores!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Taped Up

After any purchase you make from any store, the bag is taped closed with the store's signature tape. If you've remembered to take your own bag with you, every item you purchased gets a little piece of the tape on it to show that you did indeed pay for it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Where the Streets Have No Names -

but the apartment buildings (or mansions) do, and often the name appears in English.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Sound of Silence

Due to obvious land restrictions, busy roads are often near residential areas, and I have to say, I think these sound barriers are much more aesthetically pleasing than the massive brick ones in Michigan.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


When you go on vacation, proper etiquette requires you to bring souvenirs (omiyage) back with you to show that you were thinking of your colleagues (or friends/family) while you were gone. M often finds little treats on his desk from his coworkers' travels, so now we're always sure to pick up something we we travel too.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

CSA Stovetop Cooking 4


I was putting off attempting to cook with the yamaimo in our CSA box (Japanese mountain yam - in this post it is the thicker lighter object in the top photo) as M had previously described the unique texture of this vegetable to me.

The yamaimo is prized for its neba neba consistency (sounds nicer than "really slimy" does) when grated. The grated result is in the dish in the top left of the photo, which we then mixed with rice. Not being a huge fan of goo, I also tried it raw (bottom left) and covered in panko and broiled (bottom right).

The broiled version was the best of the bunch, but lets just say that the yamaimo probably won't be my favorite new food from Japan. In fact, if it shows up in our CSA box again, I might just slip it into someone else's!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dial 1 for Service

Drinking parties (nomikai) are a big thing here - whether for a goodbye party, a welcome party, or as a team-building night out, the Japanese love them, and have them frequently. The group generally gets a room to themselves, and when another round of drinks is needed all you have to do is buzz the button on the table or pick up the phone.

CSA Stovetop Cooking 3

Not the prettiest soup in the world, but tasty - satoimo (taro) combined with 'regular' potatoes, onion and corn (and garlic of course) to make a filling thick chowder.

Friday, December 12, 2008

End of the Line

The subway stops running by about midnight, so if you're riding at the end of the night it might be a lonely experience.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Keep on Truckin'

It's still my birthday in the States, so I'm still celebrating - with cake (G.G.'s banana) and ice cream for breakfast! mmmm How cute are the individually wrapped ice cream scoops that A brought for our dessert last night?!

I won't be washing my cake down with anything this truck has to deliver though...

(Sorry, bit hard to see - the back of the truck reads "ACID MILK")

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

December in Nagoya

Blooming flowers?! No snow?!
Looks like a good birthday present to me!!

CSA Stovetop Cooking 2

In our second CSA box we got a beautiful watermelon radish

and carrots, onions, garlic, and spinach, which all got combined into one tasty meal.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Bike Accommodations

Bicycling is a big thing here, and it's nice to see infrastructure in place to support it. At one subway station I saw covered underground bike parking, and there was a special bicycle escalator to help you get it back above ground.

CSA Stovetop Cooking 1

Kabocha squash gnocchi with sauteed onions and mushrooms, and our colorful salad includes spinach, daikon, and carrots from the CSA box.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Home Tour Part 7

When we first looked at apartments here, I wasn't crazy about how they all seemed so compartmentalized. I prefer open spaces, but every apartment we saw had doors on every room, so every area was able to be shut off.

Now that the weather is colder I understand why this is a really necessary feature. Buildings here have very little (if any) insulation (although I hear this is starting to improve with new construction), so when it's cold outside, it's cold inside! Also, there isn't central heating/air conditioning - so this is what keeps us warm or cool:

There is one of these units in each of the bedrooms and in the living room. So we layer up, shut the doors in whatever room we're in and try to make trips out of them as quick as possible!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hungry for Home

When we're in the mood for pizza we call Domino's. It doesn't taste quite the same, but it satisfies the craving. This is how our cheese pizza gets to us:

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Green Thumbs Round 4

Success!! We've gotten a lovely (and hopefully tasty) ripe lemon off of our tree!!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sonne Garten

We just joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program through our nearby organic grocery store, so every week we get a box of fresh fruits and veggies. Below you'll find pictures of a few of the items in our first box. Some of the items we got were easily recognizable - napa cabbage, onions, kabocha squash (Japanese call it pumpkin), a turnip (though giant-sized!), but others were not. With the help of the store owner, we got the Japanese names of the unfamilar items, and then I did some internet research to learn what to do them!

These are the full length of a newspaper! They barely fit in the fridge!

This one was not only pretty, but it was delicious as well!

We're looking forward to seeing what comes in our box every Monday, and it certainly is going to put my culinary skills to the test!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Back it Up

People almost always back into parking spaces here. I think it's more difficult just because I'm not used to it, but it is good for conserving fuel.

Peri, our Toyota Auris, is featured in the center of the pack.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Home Tour Part 6

As shown previously, the toilet gets its own room, so the bathroom has a sink and our washing machine, and then this room with the shower and tub. Notice how low the mirror is? It isn't for checking how your knees are looking - traditionally, Japanese people would wash themselves first while sitting on a stool (so you would actually be able to see in the mirror), and then get into the bath for soaking after getting clean. The tub is small and deep, and some of the apartments we looked at came with folding tub covers. These would be used to keep the water warm for the other family members that would be getting in after you.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Subway Sights

A lot of regular sights on the subway packed into one picture. It is considered rude to talk on the phone while on the subway, but a lot of people have their phones out and are either texting or playing games on them to pass the time. People frequently sleep on the subway too, and seem to wake up just as they get to their stop - they'll often drift off with their cell phone or a book in hand. And finally, masks to prevent spreading your sickness to those around you.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Just For Men - I hope...

Can't get your facial hair to fill in? Not a problem!!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Home Tour Part 5 - do you have a sink on your toilet?

While we're on the subject of toilets, let's continue our apartment tour. "Toire" is the Japanese word (taken from English) for both the toilet itself and the room it is in. This is considered an 'unclean' area of the house, so there will be slippers at the door for your use. If you already have slippers on, you slip those off and step into the bathroom slippers, and then reverse the process when you're done - thus avoiding your clean slippers being in an 'unclean' area. When you flush, the faucet turns on, letting the user wash their hands in the water going to refill the bowl - smart water conservation!

Friday, November 21, 2008


After arriving in Japan for our preview trip, I had to make a pit stop in the airport bathroom, and oh was I surprised to see this:

It looks like someone got confused and stuck a urinal in the ground, right?! This is a traditional Japanese squat toilet. The bar at the front helps beginners (and foreigners) maintain their balance. According to Wikipedia, it is known as a "grunt bar."

I had a flashback to a conversation I'd had with M & D after M's first trip to Japan. D said that she'd heard that there were holes in the ground in the bathroom, and M said that there certainly weren't.

I stomped out of the airport bathroom and over to a surprised and very caught off-guard M, and exclaimed, "They do so have holes in the ground," while wondering what I'd gotten myself into.

That was four months ago, so I've seen a lot more of them since then, but they won't go down as my favorite thing about Japan. Did I mention that some public bathrooms don't have toilet paper, so it's common practice to carry your own pack of tissues...?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Stovetop Cooking 1.3

Thanks to a great find of mini-trays by A & K, our cooking options might go up a notch - here are bean enchiladas done in the fish broiler!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bedazzling the Streets

Public art is all over the place - from large pieces down to small ones underfoot.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

It's Raining, Men.

One of the buildings in our neighborhood was getting renovated awhile ago, and while walking by, we happened to spot these workers protecting themselves and any passersby from falling debris with their umbrellas.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Home Tour Part 4

Off of our LDK (that's Living, Dining, Kitchen for those of you who haven't be perusing any Japanese apartment classifieds lately - we live in a 2LDK +tatami room) we have 2 porches. One of which is too small to get any use by anything other than our burnable trash. The other porch is used for drying laundry. When the laundry is dry, the poles slide out, and the side arms bend in and out of the way, creating more space.

Even with the poles out of the way, porches aren't used as an entertaining space here, they are mainly a functional space - like for the daily airing out of your sleeping futon!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Skyscraper Shopping

On Friday K and I shopped in and around Nagoya station (the world's largest train station in terms of floor area!). One of our stops was at Midland Square - it is the fifth tallest building in Japan and it has the highest open air observatory in the country. Inside are offices and lots of shopping - similar to Somerset level - the type of shopping that I feel like I need to dress up for. Prices were too high to be purchasing anything, so the highlight for me was seeing the unusual double-floored elevators!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Shoe Zoo - Home Tour Part 3

It is mandatory to take your shoes off before entering a Japanese home - you are symbolically and literally leaving the dirt of outside behind as you step up into the house. Guests shoes stay in the entryway - the genkan - which is slightly lower than the rest of the home. But where do the occupants shoes go? In the shoe closet!

This is one thing I will definitely miss about our apartment! It is so convenient - no more rooting around in the bottom of your closet, trying to see your shoe options - they are all on display!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Stovetop Cooking 1.2 and Home Tour Part 2

I neglected to explain that the food posts are titled "Stovetop Cooking," because that's really all we can do here. We have a gas stovetop and a drawer for broiling fish, which we use as a toaster/broiler. We do have a small convection microwave, but we generally use it just as a microwave rather than as an oven. My attempt to bake a persimmon pudding in a cereal bowl didn't turn out exactly as I'd hoped it would...

Sunday brunch on the other hand turned out deliciously. I made french toast with a batter of soy milk, banana, and tahini, and I am really wishing that there were leftovers for me to devour right now!

Happy Birthday to our fur-child!! Hana and her 'sister' Journey both turn 4 today!!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Pitch Piles - Home Tour Part 1

This is our recycling/trash station in our kitchen.

The short one is for non-recyclable materials (not very much falls into the actual trash category - we've only emptied this twice since we've been here). The four compartments in the taller bins hold paper containers and cartons, glass bottles, cans, and plastic. PET bottles are another category, separate from all other plastic, but we don't ever have many of them, so we didn't add in another bin to the mix!

Everything has its own specific bag too. Non-recyclable material goes in the green bag, recycling goes into blue bags (each category into their bag - no mixing!) And burnable materials go into the red bags. That bin lives out on our porch, because as I mentioned here - food scraps in plastic bags get really stinky!