Monday, December 22, 2014

Japanese Christmas (home for the holidays)

Jeff and I decided to come back to the U.S. for the holidays.  We are making a 3 state tour while we are in the country.  A stop in CA to see Jeff's family, a stop in ID to see dogs and friends and a stop in Phoenix to see my parents.  The long flight back to the U.S. was a little tougher than long flights normally feel due to pregnancy fun.  I have been a little more tired than normal after a big time change and I'm more achy, but after a day of rest up a massage I feel much better.

I appologize for formatting issues the next few posts as I'm having to post on my phone.

Japan has a very small Christian population (less than 1%) so it has surprised me to see so many shops put up Christmas decorations and play Christmas music.  Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan.  I asked my Japanese language teacher about Christmas in Japan and a few other people I work with who have Japanese spouces.  The consensus is that Christmas Eve is more of a celebration  than Christmas Day and that the holiday is a non-religious one.  

Christmas Eve is often celebrated by couples going on romantic dates and exchanging gifts in the same way that Americans celebrate Valentine's Day.  Some parents give their children a present and the day is mostly seen as a day to spread merriment.  Friends sometimes get together and share a meal together or give Christmas cake (sponge cake with whipped cream frosting).  I think Japanese people love holidays and excuses to celebrate and have happily added Christmas to their list of minor holidays and festivals.  

Here are some of my favorite decorations.

This is a Christmas tree with the top being the Carp mascot for the Hiroshima  carp baseball team.

Lights at Hiroshima.  There were dozens of different displays that seemed to be sponsored by different companies.  There were lots of people walking around and taking pictures.

Jeff and I got a tiny fake tree for our apartment and decorated it to make it festive.  

Here is my favorite Japanese Christmas card.

 Happy holidays all!  

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The shower and the washing machine

Time for another love/hate blog about Japan.

Bath tub and Shower:  I love my bath tub and shower.  Soaking in a tub is very much part of Japanese culture.  They consider this to be an essential part of their nightly ritual.  The Japanese way of doing things is to take a shower and thoroughly cleans yourself and then hop in to the tub and soak in the hottest water you can stand.  You do not put anything in the water in the tub and you clean yourself before hand so as to not contaminate the water or make the tub dirty.  Families will often share the same bath water.

I don't follow the Japanese traditional way of doing thing and I've been known to contaminate my bath water with bubble bath but I also don't share my water, Jeff is not a soaker.  What I love about the setup we have here is you can set the volume and temperature of the water that you would like and literally all you do is push one button and the tub fills itself and then stops.  That's it!  It also has a re-heat feature where it reheats the existing water in the tub.  The shower is also slick in that it has a "dry" feature.  After you are done in the little shower/bath room you set the dry function and the fan clicks on and blows hot air all over the place and keeps your shower from turning in to a moldy mess.  In a climate as damp as Japan this is an awesome thing to have.

Washing machine/Drier:  The washing machine/drier that we have in our apartment is supposed to do both things, wash clothes and dry them.  It sucks at both.  The think I hate most about my apartment is this appliance.

The washer gets clothes clean-ish, but all of my clothes are pilling.  You know, those annoying little balls that you get on really old t-shirts?  I have nice clothes and I take care of them so they generally last a stupidly long time.  Not here.  Everything I have brought with me is showing signs of ware.  It also leaves an astonishingly large amount of lint on everything.  Some how the washer at home removes lint (I hang dry some items in the US and they never are as linty as everything is here).  There is no gentle setting, there is no temperature setting, only volume.  So my choice is hand wash everything and then it will take even longer to dry (since the one thing the washer does well is centrifuge out some of the water) or just plan on a shopping spree when I get home.  I'm not the only person having this problem.  Other US transplants are having the same issues.

The other hate is the drier.  I call it a drier only because that's what it calls itself.  It has a dry setting that goes up to 5 hours.  I have tried this on several occasions.  It does not tumble dry anything.  When I tried trying the sheets on a rainy day when they were not drying out side I wound up with the most sad and wrinkled mess I've ever seen and I'm fairly lazy about promptly removing things from the drier in the US but this was crazy.  The fitted sheet was so bad it was hard to get it on the mattress.  I tried it a second rainy day with towels.  It took 7 hours for them to dry.  There were still damp after five.

I have since given up and on days like today (29'F and snowing) the laundry is on a rack in my living room (the only room with a heater on, I'm sure I'll do one of these about missing central heating one of these days).  In addition to not really having space for this eye-sore of an apparatus, all that lint I mentioned?  Yep, it's all over the apartment so I'm having to vacuum and dust way more to keep the lint from blowing around.

I never thought I'd be so excited to do laundry but I honestly am looking forward to pulling warm dry clothes out of a drier that dries!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hiking near Seno

Yesterday Jeff and I went hiking with the Hiroshima hiking club.  It was a really nice route that started two train stations from us in a town called Seno.  There was a good sized group, around 20 people.  There were two other Americans in the group, both are English teachers.  This group has a high percentage of English speakers and with our really basic Japanese, it felt very social.

The hike went through several sub climates.  It started in what looked like fairly tropical forest.  There was a fair amount of leaf matter on the ground but many of the trees don't seem to drop leaves.  The trail followed a narrow stream for much of the way up.

In between the patches of broad leaf forest was cedar groves and the occasional small bamboo grove.  We hit several sections that had a dusting of snow.

After about two and a half hours of hiking we reached the top of the mountain.  It had some lovely views.  Added bonus we were in the sun so it felt warmer.

After the requisite picture taking and posing at the top everyone settled down for some serious snacking.  Keep in mind, we had a group lunch planned after the hike but people came prepared.  Jeff and I just brought a couple of granola bars and we were by far, the minimalists.  There was a wide variety of chocolate, the crunchy pancake-y things with peanuts in them, bread made from something interesting as it was spinach-y green and cheese... and these were just the snacks that people where sharing around!  Most people also had little thermoses of hot coffee or tea.  Jeff and I did not bring any thing to share and felt quite bad.  We will bring something good to share next hike.

We waited around for a while for the really slow group to catch up with us.  The hike split in to three groups, the fast group (although truth be told, it isn't a very fast group of hikers), a slightly slower group, and a really slow group.  The really slow group was a guy who is 82, one of the hiking club organizers, mostly because they want to make sure this old guy isn't hiking on his own and he is apparently a super interesting guy so fun to talk to, and an older lady (I didn't catch her age).  Once they showed up and had a few more snacks we started back down.

One of the things that made this hike really nice was that it was a loop.  The route back was completely different than the way we came.  So far, hiking in Japan has been really interesting in that everything is really steep!  There are no gentle rolling hills.  It is either very up or very down.

Below is our destination town of Nananohigashi
The route was such that we came down to a completely different town which meant a different train stop.  We all just hopped on the next train and went in to Hiroshima for lunch.  The last group of three was going to meet up with us at the restaurant so they could go their own pace.

People thought I was pretty strange for hiking while pregnant.  This is something I have seen repeatedly in Japan.  Pregnant women don't do anything here.  In America it is recommended that physical activity is part of your routine when pregnant with the "listen to your body" tag that goes along with everything.  This is not the case in Japan.  Exercise is not encouraged at all.  No one has told me not to exercise but any doctor that I have mentioned doing a little hiking looks at me like I'm insane.  I have read quite a bit on exercise and pregnancy and everything says it is good for mom and baby so I'm going to keep moving but it was a little strange how shocked people were.  I have my days were I barely get up from the couch, but I feel better when I get a little more blood flow.

The restaurant was okonomiyaki. I think I brought this type of food up once before.  It is definitely Japanese comfort food in the way that Americans love pizza, Japanese love okonomiyaki. It is pretty much a think pancake or crape that has noodles, bean sprouts, eggs, pork, cabbage all topped off with a special sauce cooked on a hot griddle.  

A few extra people joined us for lunch that did not make the hike.  It was a super pleasant day and I slept so good last night!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cleanliness and trash

I'm going to start occasionally writing blogs where I talk about something that I really like about Japan and then something that pretty much drives me crazy.

Cleanliness:  Japan is clean.  Really clean.  When I ride my bike to the station, every morning unless it is pouring rain, people are outside in front of their businesses sweeping and raking and making everything clean at the start of the day.  These are not custodians or someone who was hired to do that job, but the people who work at that business.  Men and women in suites and ties outside cleaning in front of the bank or clothing store or whatever it is.  The employees keep it clean.  I think this stems from the students being responsible for keeping the schools clean.  I think it's an awesome idea and I think it teaches kids to be much cleaner since they know they they might be the one cleaning up the mess.  I think it teaches them to respect property.

When it's raining, most businesses have umbrella covers out side so you don't drip your wet umbrella across their clean floors.  At many businesses, you take your shoes off at the door and use the clean slippers provided.  Public bathrooms are spotless including places like train stations public shopping areas.  Japan has an amazingly small amount of litter for a country with such a dense population.

Public transportation is very clean.  I've used the trains in Europe and Greyhound buses in the US when I was in collage.  Comparatively, the Japanese trains are spotless.  The seats are clean the windows are clean.  It is a culture that really appreciates things being clean.  I'm a bit of a neat freak and a germ-a-phobe so this makes me really happy.  I have visited dirty countries (Cambodia comes to mind) but I'd hate to live in one.

Trash:  With that being said, you would think that Japan would make it easy for people in public places to dispose of garbage so that they would not litter.  This is very much not the case.

Japan has a very complicated trash/recycle system.  At home we have 5 different cans to sort trash and there are 7 different trash collection types that are rotated on a schedule.  The attention to detail that is expected is very high.  For example all plastic labels must be removed from plastic bottles and are put in separate containers, all plastic must be removed from envelopes, tissue boxes and juice cartons with the screw spout.  The trash deconstruction process is sometimes extensive and most containers have detailed instructions on how they are supposed to be recycled.  If you get a group of expats together for more than 5 minutes, someone will complain about the trash.

It's not just the sorting process but also that there is no place to put it other than keep it in your house.  I made the mistake of making shrimp on the wrong day once (and only once).  It was shrimp that came with the tails on it so we threw out the tips of the tails.  After 2 days the whole apartment stank like low tide.  Unlike the US, we don't have an outside can to put stinky things (I'm really dreading what I'm going to do with diapers but I figure that out when we get there).  In the US, when ever we had something that we knew would be smelly, we would just put it in the big outside can and it was no problem.  Now, part of meal planning is knowing what day which type of trash goes out.

I love getting packages but I hate dealing with the packaging.  Cardboard only goes out once a month and it has to be folded and bundled with limits on all dimensions.  The peanuts and other packing material are always difficult to get rid of.

Going back to public places, there are very few public trash cans.  If you drink a bottle of water chances are you will have to carry that bottle around for a couple of hours before you find a proper place to dispose of it.  In the US people would just litter but in Japan people seem to carry their trash around for ages until they can find a public can.  I'm amazed at how clean the shopping areas are where food is sold but there are no easily accessed trash cans.  I have gotten frustrated by this on numerous occasions.  There I was after eating my delicious meat on a stick, suck with the stick.

That's all for now.  :-)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Pregnant in Japan, part 3

Last blog I had a second doctor visit and registered the pregnancy at City Hall.  The next week I went in for the third doctor visit in three weeks.

This visit they were really happy since I had all the paperwork they wanted and coupons so they ran a whole bunch of tests on me to further verify everything was OK in addition to the ultrasound.  Everything checked out OK.  The doctor kept saying "you can eat".  I'm still not sure if she was trying to figure out if I was able to eat with the queasiness or if she was telling me it was OK if I eat more.  Japan is funny about weight gain in pregnancy.  They want you to only gain 10 kg.  This is about 22 lbs.  They want you to gain about 1 kg a month, no more.

So far I'm a little light on weight gain.  I think it's mostly due to muscle loss.  Since I've become pregnant, I stopped running.  It doesn't feel good anymore and I'm a big believer in listening to my body.  I walk a bunch, occasionally go for a hike and ride my bike to get around and occasionally do some light weight lifting or a cheesy prenatal workout or yoga video on the internet but that's about it.  My boots are loose around my calves so I know I've lost some muscle.  I'm not concerned about it and my doctor seems fine with it.

That checkup was fairly uneventful until my doctor realized I was over 35.  For some reason she thought I was younger.  I can't really tell how old Japanese women are and I guess she can't tell how old white people are - lol!  At that point she suggested I get an additional ultrasound at the Hiroshima University Hospital because they have much more up to date ultra sound equipment than here tiny little clinic and they should check to make sure everything is good.

This seemed like it would be fine.  This was on a Friday.  She called on Tuesday and asked if I could make an appointment the next day and I needed an interpreter with me because they didn't speak any English at the other hospital.  I exactly have an interpreter following me around making life easy so I explained that I didn't have anyone to interpret so she set the appointment for the next available time which was in 2 weeks.  I placed a couple of phone calls and managed to get the International S.O.S. guys to bug my insurance people and muster me up an interpreter for the appointment.

It was pretty much a group explanation of what can go wrong and what is detectable and availability of additional tests if things look wonky or if they are desired.  I then had the ultrasound where they thoroughly checked out the baby and made sure everything was going well.  I didn't realize that I would have the ultrasound that day.  As soon as I realized what was going to happen I was really nervous.  I was at 13 weeks and had not had an ultrasound since week 9.  Last year, I was pregnant and something went wrong between my 8 and 12 week checkups and the baby stopped developing and had no heart beat when I had my 12 week ultrasound.  There was a little thing in the back of my head that was afraid the baby would be dead again.  I screwed up the "take of shoes ritual" and then gave the wrong month for my last period.  I was such a flustered mess.  I managed to get everything sorted eventually and was supper excited to see that the baby was alive and moving around.  It was doing little fist pumps and wiggling it's legs.  It was pretty cool/freaky to realize that was inside my belly.

Everything checked out as good and I left the hospital a happy mamma and finally felt a little more like it was OK to feel like things would work out this time.  I didn't realize how much I was suppressing my excitement because I was afraid it would end badly again.  Jeff and I celebrated with my favorite prego food, grilled cheese sandwiches that night.

Two days later I had an uneventful visit at my normal doctor clinic and after that, Jeff and I went public with our news.  I'm now at 15 weeks and I'm grateful that I seem to be getting a little less queasy, and dizzy.  There is a lot of fish in Japan.  Fish smells are every where.  This is not ideal when you are pregnant and queasy.  I've been really missing American food.  I'm normally an extremely adventurous eater but pregnancy seems to have effectively shut down that part of me.  It's been a little challenging to be in a foreign country with such different dietary habits but at least I seem to be over the worst of it.  This is definitely an adventure!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thanksgiving in Japan

Thanksgiving is pretty much only an American holiday so it shouldn't come as a surprise that Japan really doesn't do anything for it.  I'm grateful that there are enough expats in Hiroshima for Costco to stock turkeys.  Jeff and I ran down to the Costco as soon as a) we heard they had turkeys and b) we managed to find room for one in our freezer.

Once we got the turkey we started working on a plan to eat it.  First, we needed a place to cook it.  We don't have an oven large enough for more than 2 chicken breasts let alone a turkey.  I knew the YMCA had ovens so I spoke with my boss to see if we could borrow an oven. The YMCA is a long way from our house.  This made hosting a dinner very difficult as there would be no way to transport a turkey that kind of distance, while keeping it warm enough to make sides and have people show up.  All of our American friends in Japan live in Hiroshima, which is where the YMCA is.  We just sort of said "If we cook a turkey would anyone be willing to host?"  Fortunately we had some takers and Turkey Day was on!

We decided to do it on the Saturday after Thanksgiving since everyone had work on Thursday.  I arranged to have access to the oven and everything was set in motion.  We thawed and brined the turkey.  My mom sent me a turkey tray and an oven bag to cook it.  We also volunteered to bring a dessert.  There is (oddly) a country wide butter shortage in Japan right now which limited my dessert making options but my sister-in-law was super sweet and sent us a goody box a couple weeks ago which included mix for pumpkin spice cupcakes.  These didn't require butter except for the frosting.  I thought cream cheese would work (and it did) so we were good on dessert making.  I'm starting to get the hang of toaster oven baking.  We did all the prep work at home and loaded up the finished cupcakes and the turkey that was preped and ready to go in the oven.

Once we got to the YMCA there was a little bit of a problem.  I figured out how to turn on the oven (which made me feel pretty smart) but the tray wouldn't fit.  Japanese ovens are REALLY small.  They have trays that slide in them instead of the wire shelves.  We tried putting the turkey on the oven tray and it didn't fit that way either.  We were starting to get worried when a couple more people showed up at the YMCA.  Fortunately one of them was an experienced turkey cooker in that oven.  She pulled out the oven tray told us to put the turkey in the foil tray and then smooshed it all up so that it would fit in the oven.  The tray went right on the bottom of the oven (the turkey was only about 15 lbs but it still barely fit).  It seems like having the tray sitting on the bottom of the oven would cause uneven heat issues but she said it's not a problem.  We figured she knew what she was talking about and we really had no choice, so we went with it.

Turkey in oven bag and smooshed tray in YMCA oven.
Turkey ready for carving.

Three hours later we had a lovely cooked turkey.  We took it to our friends house and met a third couple.  There was stuffing (made with oysters), cauliflower with a delicious tomato and dill sauce, roasted carrots, mashed sweet potatoes, corn casserole, and apple crisp and pumpkin spice cupcakes for dessert.  It was quite the decadent feast and we had a lovely evening.  We divvied up the leftovers at the end of the night and went home stuffed and happy.  Nothing like good food and good friends for a wonderful day!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Pregnant in Japan, Part 2

With the previous blog I left off after the first Dr. visit when the pregnancy was confirmed. I had a second appointment scheduled with the doctor in Hiroshima but that is about an hour away by public transit and seemed like a little further way than I really wanted to be from the place I was going to have to go regularly for checkup.

I spoke with the insurance people so see if I could get a doctor closer to where I actually live.  They assured me that there were no doctors that spoke English near me.  Fortunately, there is another resource for us, I think it's called International S.O.S. and after contacting them, they said there was a doctor in Saijo that spoke some English.  The doctor's office is a block and a half from my apartment.  Done!

The International S.O.S. people told us they are open on weekends and take walk-ins so we didn't need an appointment.  On Sunday morning we went down to the clinic. You take your shoes off as soon as you walk in the door and put on the slippers provided (this was made obvious by all the shoes in the entryway of the clinic and the slippers). Next was the extensive sign up process with the clinic (every new doctor's office you go to you get a different patient number and a new card).  First we had to signup at the main desk down stairs (which is a general health clinic), then we got the clinic card and went upstairs to the OBGYN clinic.  Very little of the paper work was English and none of the nurses speak any English.  By hand gestures and our limited Japanese we figured out where to go and what to do.  

At this point I was pretty much living in a state of perpetual queasiness and as the wait went on and on, I felt worse and worse.  After an hour we figured out the system for calling patience and realized that there was still a really long wait until they called us.  I think it was around 2 hours before it was our turn. At this point I was feeling very green.  We briefly met with the doctor and she checked me and the baby out and declared everything good.  She then said we needed to register the baby with the city office and that we needed to come back with the baby books and coupons in a week.  We were not entirely sure what she was talking about but she showed us a booklet someone else had and then handed me a paper to take to the city office and scheduled us an appointment for the following week.  She definitely made the point that we should schedule appointments whenever possible as the walk-in wait was terrible.

The next week I went down to the City Hall and asked where I had to go to register the pregnancy (basically I showed someone the paper and asked "where?" in Japanese and was pointed in the right direction).  I was handed a huge packet of what I can only assume is very useful information but of course, I can't read any of it because it is all in Japanese.  

Still, there were some useful bits.  I have are 2 baby books (one in English and one in Japanese) in which the doctor records all of my checkups, test results, the birth, vaccinations and goes on up through the first 6 years of the baby's life.  
The blue one is English

They contain the exact same information only the blue one is printed in English and the doctor writes a little more of the information in English (but not everything)

The other bit of useful stuff is a coupon book.  This has coupons for all of the ultrasounds, blood tests, urine tests, birth, hospital stays, pediatrician visits, dentist visits, optometrist visits, you name it, for the first 6 years of the baby's life.  The coupons seem to cover about half of the costs.  I was told that the coupons were like money.  If I loose them, they are gone and can not be replaced.  
I have no idea what this coupon is for.  There are a ton and they are all different colors.

I was also given a little badge to put on my purse that pretty much tells the world I'm pregnant.  This is useful for public transit.  There are special seats on the bus, street cars and train for the elderly, people with injuries that require them to use crutches, women carrying infants and pregnant women.  This means I can always get a seat.  This is really nice and has come in handy when I'm queasy.  I don't always sit in the special section but it's nice to have the option.  
This is my purse tag

This is the designation for the special seats.  It varies slightly but its pretty easy to figure out what it means. 

This still leaves about an inch of papers in the packet that I still have no idea what they are supposed to do or if they have any use at all.  The City Office tried very hard to be helpful but there was only one lady who spoke any English but she did not speak much.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Shodoshima and Kankakei Gorge hike

Last weekend Jeff and I took an overnight trip to Shodoshima island which is in the Seto inland sea.  I had read about a gorge there that is, well... gorgeous!

We got a little bit of a late start and then drove to Okayama and then hopped on the ferry to Shodoshima.  The island is interesting in that it has a public bus system that goes to the Kankakei gorge (which is the islands biggest attraction) but it only runs 4 times a day.  This was really strange to us and we got there to late to see the gorge so we decided to go checkout the olive grove.  Yep, you read that right.  There apparently were 4 places in Japan that they tried growing olives about 100 years ago but the only one that was successful was on Shodoshima so they grow olives and make olive oil.  The setup is really quite pretty and they had some good food for a late lunch.

This is supposed to be a Greek style windmill.  I have no idea if this correct or not since I don't have a lot of knowledge on windmills.

Evening over the sea.

Stairs leading down between the olive trees.

The next day we got up early and caught the morning bus out to the Kankakei gorge.  It has a "ropeway" or a gondola to go up to the top or it has a couple of different hiking trails.  This was nice as we could decide how active we wanted to be based on how I was feeling.  We had originally talked about taking the ropeway up and then walking down but it was a lovely day and I was feeling good so we decided to walk up and go from there.

We were quickly rewarded by a passing troupe of monkeys.  They were polite and didn't get too close but they were clearly used to seeing people.  I was a little worried as I was in the middle of eating a roll (left over from breakfast) when we first spotted them and I was concerned they would be attracted to the food.  I put the roll in my pocket but the monkeys seemed very indifferent.

The came past in a steady stream, mostly along the same paved path that we were walking up.  Some were off to the side of the trail and a couple were traveling up in the trees.

The fall leaves were perfect and the lighting was such that the canopy was glowing as the sun was hitting them.  The pictures really don't capture how stunning it was.

It was a little shy of 2k up to the top of the gorge.  It was pretty steep but it was beautiful.  One of the things that cracked me up (and I wish I would have taken a picture of it) was the signs along the trail that pointed out the viewpoints and even had a laminated picture on display to show people what they should be taking a picture of.  Most of the Japanese hikers were very diligent and took pictures where the signs indicated.  I was a little more rebellious in my photographic habits.

View from the top of the gorge.
 Once we had reached the top we realized that there was actually a road that went all the way to the top, not just a rope way.  There were throngs of people and there was a large building full of food vendors and souvenir stands.  We took advantage of the food sellers and got some gioza (pork filled steamed dumplings) that were delicious!
People at the top.
 After our delightful snack we decided to hike back down instead of taking the ropeway.  I had some crackers in the back pack and some water bottles so it seemed like we might as well continue our hike.  There was a different trail that we could take down than the one we went up so it seemed like a good idea to make a loop out of it.  The second trail ended a bit lower on the gorge than the trail we went up but we thought we might be able to catch a bus where it spit us out.
It was a little less hazy on the other side and the fall colors were amazing.

Natural stone arch.

looking up at the top of the arch.

Temple nestled into the side of the rock wall.

Craggy rocks and fall prettiness.

This was the bottom of our trail.
Our trail spit us out on the main road quite a bit below where we started but still about 6k from town.  I'm not entirely sure who botched this one but we wound up walking back all the way to town.  Overall that put us at about 12 k for the day.  It was a lovely day but a little farther than I really wanted to go.  Once we got back to town we caught a bus, caught the ferry and rolled back to home right around dinner time.  It was a great over night trip!

Just to give you an idea of how far we walked, you can see the town in the center of the picture, we walked back to there.

How to complicate life when living in Japan...Get pregnant!!!

Yep, that's right blog readers, I'm pregnant!  I just finished up week 14 so I have some catching up to do on sharing some of the differences between Japan and the US.  I was pregnant about this time last year in the US when unfortunately at my 12 week checkup the baby no longer had a heart beat so I think I have a decent idea of how the first couple of appointments go US for comparison.

I'll start with the crazy lady at the hiking club.  Go back all the way to September and there is a post on the Japanese hiking club.  A couple of days before Jeff and I took this hike, I took a home pregnancy test that very clearly said that I was not pregnant.  I didn't think anything of it and continued on as normal.  Jeff and I did the hike as documented in the blog but I omitted a story.  There was one slightly crazy lady on the hike.  She was a nice crazy lady and she spoke good English but she had a strange way of talking like a stream of consciousness.  As an example, she asked where in America I was from.  I said Idaho.  She said "Ah!  Idaho.  Idaho potato.  I like potatoes.  I like to cook them in a pan with butter.  My son like potatoes he likes them in Japanese curry all cut up with carrots and meat.  I like potatoes more than sweet potatoes.  Sweet potatoes are no good in curry but they are good..."  And this continued on for about 40 minutes without a break just rolling from one subject to the next.

Why is this story part of the pregnancy blog, you are probably asking right about now?  Well, when we stopped for lunch and crazy lady got quiet, really quiet.  She looked at Jeff and then at me.  Then she very clearly said "You don't have a baby yet?  Don't worry you will soon." and then walked away.  It struck both Jeff and I as very odd and the way it happened it sort of gave me goose bumps and I normally just blow stuff like this off.  Jeff and I talked about it later that evening and it struck us both as really odd and a little creepy.  That night the dreams started.  Both Jeff and I had very vivid dreams that I was pregnant.  This had never happened before (or since for that matter) and went on for a couple of days.  At this point I decided to take another home pregnancy test, only this one was positive.

So we now had one negative and one positive tests and decided to get a doctor appointment as a tie breaker.  The way our insurance works here, we call them to set up appointments with new doctors.  So we explained what we needed the appointment for and that we needed a doctor that spoke English.  They said that they had many options in Tokyo, which is like telling someone in San Francisco they have to go to LA to get a doctor appointment.  After another phone call or two they found us "the only doctor that speaks English in Hiroshima".  They came back a day later and said that doctor was no longer practicing in Hiroshima but they found "the only other doctor that speaks English in Hiroshima".  So, I met with the guy in Hiroshima who spoke fantastic English and confirmed that I was in fact, pregnant.  He suggested I set up an appointment for the following week because at that point the baby should have a heart beat that the ultrasound can pick up and then I can "register the pregnancy with the city office".  I'll pick up at this point in a future blog.  This part is pretty different from the American system and fairly interesting.

Stay tuned!  And for those of you who are really not all that interested in the prego blogs, I'll still be having plenty of other types of stories, adventures and pretty pictures.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Kyoto day 5

Our last morning in Kyoto, we packed up all of our bags and checked out of the hotel.  Again, they agreed
to hold our bags for us until we left the city which made things much easier.  

We started the morning with a massage.  Jeff has had shoulder problems since he had a mountain bike crash last march and my neck and shoulders have been angry with me.  The first massage was so good it just seemed like a fantastic way to finish up a vacation.

After getting turned in to relaxed puddles we had to muster up a little energy and headed off to the train to go to the Fushimi Inari Shrine.  This shrine is at the top of one of the hills surrounding Kyoto but the the routes up are covered in torii gates.  It is estimated that there are over 10,000 torii gates at Fushimi Inari.  The original shrine was build in 711.

The bottom of the walk was very crowded (reminded me a little of the bottom of Fuji but much easier walking) but thinned out pretty quickly the higher we went.  Jeff and I went to the top (but had a soft ice cream on the way down).  It's around 4 km each way.  There is a great viewpoint of the city at the half way point but sadly there is no view from the top.  It was a nice walk and it felt good do a little hike.  It was a lot of stairs.

These are the smaller densely spaced gates near the bottom of the hill.

As you get a little higher up, the gates get bigger but the spacing is a little wider.  You can also see that these gates are a little older as the vermilion paint has faded a bit.

The view of Kyoto from the half way point.

The shrine at the top

Stone (cold?) fox.  There were stone foxes of various sizes all over the mountain.  They all held something in their mouths.  They are regarded as messengers and are often found at Inari shrines.

In this picture you can see the carvings on the gates.  These are generally the name or the company that donated the torii gate.  The size of the gate is determined by the size of the donation.
After our lovely walk we headed back to the train station, ate a late lunch, grabbed our bags and headed back to Higashi-Hiroshima.  It was a really nice trip.  There was a ton of things to see and do in the Kyoto area.  We were there for such a short time that we barely scratched the surface.  I can see why Kyoto is such a popular destination for people to visit.

Kyoto Day 4

After the previous day's laziness we decided to get up early and get moving.  We headed towards some lesser traveled temples again.  The day started out with a train ride and then a walk through a bamboo forest.  There were quite a few people at the beginning of the walk but they thinned out rather quickly.  We came across a pond there there was a heron that seemed content to pose while I took his picture.

We went to Gioji Temple at the recommendation from our friends the previous night at dinner.  It was great.  It was off the beaten path and beautiful.   Unfortunately, my lack of knowledge on my new camera showed with these pictures and I'm not really happy with the lighting on them.  It was dim and green and serene and many of the pictures feel over exposed for me.  Here's what I got that I feel best captures this place.

Fallen leaves on the moss.  Everything was covered with different types of mosses.  They had pots off to the side showing all the different varieties of moss, I think there were about a dozen.  

The maple trees over the mossy ground.

A small fountain.

A little old lady sweeping the leaves off of the moss.
 I apologize now for my indulgence in my love of fall leaves.

 We then headed off to Diakakuji Temple.  It was a very pleasant surprise.  We knew nothing about it prior to going but it was free admission with our ticket from Gioji so we decided to make the trek and check it out.  It was a huge complex of buildings that were linked together with covered wooden walkways.  The whole thing was shoes off.  The floors were perfectly smooth, not sock snares.  The complex was used as a vacation home for some of the emperors of Japan back when the capital was Kyoto.  The best part was the nightingale floor.  Some of you might have read some sort of historical fiction or book with ninjas in it that talks about a room or a building with nightingale floors.  They are wooden floors that are designed to make noise when walked on.  They make a small squeak or chirp.  Jeff and I waited until no one was around then took turns trying to be ninja and walk on the floors without making any noise.  Both of us managed to walk a little quieter with practice but neither of us succeeded in silence.  It was a ton of fun!

This is from our walk between temples.  It was pretty farm land.

Rooms connected by covered wooden flooring.

This long hallway is where we tried to walk quietly.  We both decided that we probably shouldn't try to change our profession to Ninja.
After exploring the inside, we got our shoes back and took a walk around the lake behind the temple and some bamboo groves.

Across the lake back towards the temple.

Bamboo.  These are about 4-6 inches across at the base.

Jeff with the bamboo curving over the path above him.
We then headed back to the train and went towards Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion.  This was one of those places that pretty much everyone sees when they go to Kyoto.  I expected large crowds but not to be overly impressed.  I was wrong, well, half wrong.  It was crowded but it really was stunning.  I think we hit the lighting just right and lucked out but the temple seemed to almost glow.  It is gold leaf that has been lacquered over.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Another heron that was feeling photogenic.
Wow!  What a day.  Sorry for the long blog, it's making me tired just remembering it all.  We headed back to our hotel, got cleaned up and went out to dinner.  We found a tiny Italian place that was great.  It actually tasted like Italian food not Japanese food with some tomatoes.  This is from our walk to dinner.