Saturday, February 27, 2010


One of the first things people ask us is how we are coming along with the Japanese language ("Nihongo"), so I thought I would give a status update on that. We just finished our first semester of classes offered free of charge through the University. In addition to our kanji class, which only had four people in it and which I absolutely loved, we took a level 1 language course. There were about a dozen people in that class (below), all of whom were either grad students, researchers or significant others thereof. We learned a lot of grammar, a pretty nice volume of vocabulary and, to some varying degree, mastered the two forms of writing: hiragana (used for words of Japanese origin) and katakana (used for foreign words). Ryan is on the further edge of mastery of these alphabet systems. I still struggle. A lot.

I did so poorly on our final "quiz" (our grade doesn't affect anything but our egos), in fact, that I decided to take a whole new tack on this language study thing. I got out the local English magazine, Metropolis, and turned to the classified ads in the back. Nestled in between the columns of used household items for sale by people leaving the country (aka "sayonara sales") and the really creepy ads by people looking for all sorts of sordid things, I found a handful of nice requests by people looking for language exchange partners. I wrote to a few that were written by, and were specifically looking for, 30-something year old women.

I now have two really nice gals, each of whom I meet somewhat regularly over coffee or drinks. They couldn't be more different in terms of the things they like to chat about, but the one thing they have in common is that they are both incredibly patient with my halting, improper, painful abuse of their native language. How they manage to smile and nod and somehow discern my meaning while not wincing is beyond me, but with their encouragement and proper lubrication (left, overflowing sake from my language date with Atsuko), I am starting to at least feel a little more comfortable trying.

And at home, Ryan and I take turns reading and listening from the textbook. We also continue our self-study with Rosetta stone and the kanji flip program on Ryan's iphone. We plan to enroll in level 2 of both the kanji and language courses that start in April. The adventure continues!


Originally submitted at Perpetual Kid

Having trouble taming your chopsticks? You're not alone. You could practice for a few more years or you could just call the CHOPSTICK KIDS for help! These soft, washable, food-safe hinges really keep your chopsticks in line and add an element of fun to t

a big hit!

By Aunt Christy from Temporarily in Tokyo on 2/26/2010


4out of 5

I bought these for my nieces for Christmas. The 4 yr old liked them so much she used them to eat her entire Christmas dinner (steak, veggies, etc.) They seemed very easy for her to use and manipulate and she liked the bright colors. The 3 yr old had a little bit of a harder time holding them, perhaps the difference in hand size, but still enjoyed using them as a toy.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Last weekend we went on our first overnight trip by ourselves. We took the train to Nikko and then jumped on a bus that took us a couple hours higher up the mountain to snowy Yumoto Onsen.
When we got off the bus in the middle of what seemed like a deserted parking lot there was only one other vehicle, a small van. The driver of the van jumped out when he saw us disembark: "McCarthy-san?" He drove us the two short blocks to our hotel, where a front desk person was waiting for us, not at the front desk, but outside in the snow. She checked us in quickly, gave us our assigned time for dinner and brought us to our room, where she then proceeded to make us tea. She served us the tea on the black lacquer table in the middle of the room (where the bed would be put while we were down at dinner).
The rooms come with a set of yukatas that everyone wears all over the hotel, to dinner, to the onsen, around the room. They are quite comfortable. There is a heavier jacket that you wear when out in public.

Dinner was traditional ryokan fare, which means an endless array of bowls filled with things.
Under each lid was a new mystery.

Below is their star attraction: tofu skins. The skins aren't bad. Those little red leaves are incredible.
Below that is another preparation of the skins. Here, shredded and deep fried.

The next day, after a quick dip in the sulfur-rich onsen and a hearty Japanese breakfast, we took the bus back down the winding road to Nikko. Nikko is most known for its multiple shrines and temples, that are World Heritage sites. They are all nestled up on hillside in a National Park area with lots of pine trees and hiking trails. It is very quiet and easy to walk from one to the next.

Apparently there are wild monkeys running around during certain times of the year (harmless unless you are eating something they want - but you shouldn't be strolling around shrines eating anyway). When we were there, the only monkeys we could see were from the famous "Hear no evil..." wood carving of Toshu-go below.
Other interesting carvings depicted animals that the artist created either from a very poor memory or from hearsay I guess: an elephant with claws and hair on the right and some inexplicable teal thing on the left.

Friday, February 05, 2010

my new *easy* bake oven

For six months now we have gone without an oven. It was okay at first. There are plenty of things I can cook with our two gas burners. Plenty. But it was starting to wear on me something fierce. Simple things like casseroles and frozen pizza started to take on these magical, exotic properties in my mind, that they have no business having. Sure I could go buy a brand new oven, but that seemed like an unwise investment at this point in our lives. I instead decided to start browsing the "sayonara sales" online to see if I could find a used oven for an affordable price. For months I responded to every ad I saw, only to be informed that I'd just been scooped. A couple weeks ago, however, my patience paid off. A gal in the southern part of Tokyo was heading back to her home in Singapore and agreed to give me her oven/microwave/grill for FREE! My only job was to get down there and bring it back on my own. Thanks to Ryan's clever thinking, I was able to strap it down to one of his big bags that has a handle on one side and wheels on the other. It took me about three hours round trip, but I managed to wheel the thing down the big hill she lived on, onto the subway (yet another "crazy gaijin" moment) and lug it back to our neighborhood, all by myself. Success!

So for my first baking feat, I decided to start off small (literally) and simple by making some brownies in the world's tiniest baking pan. I don't know if the fork for scale really conveys how adorable this pan is. I think it is only 5" x 5" or so.

Since the only recipe I could find for simple brownies (I had cocoa powder but no semi-sweet chocolate) was for a 13"x 9" pan, I decided to halve the recipe. Partway through the proceedings, however, I realized that the recipe called for 3 eggs. I decided to change course midstream and go 2/3rds and thus threw in a quick splash/dash of everything I had already measured to that point. I'm sure you can see my folly.

Although my non-scientific approach to cooking works in many situations, baking is apparently not one of them. Between the messed up proportions and the position of the pan in the bottom of the oven (shouldn't things in a convection oven sit somewhere in the middle? I think I need to buy a rack), my brownies had a very, very gooey (ok, totally liquid) center. But then, of all the things that could go wrong with a pan of brownies, partially molten gooiness in the middle is probably the best. Ryan agreed. They were pretty awesome.