July 28, 2014

A day of chance encounters

Today was actually an unintended adventure that blessed us in so many ways. I offered to escort a good friend, and her husband, into Tokyo for some medical tests to be done at St. Luke's International Hospital. She was not familiar with the train system and was worried they would not make it to the appointment on time if mistakes were made. The girls, and I,  got them to the hospital with minutes to spare, and decided to roam around outside during the appointment.

First stop, a coffee shop across the street for some iced tea. This nice man, Ichiro-san (the man in the hat) was sitting at the next table, and was delighted to practice his English with us. No sooner did we begin our conversation, did he pull out a personalized notepad (complete with watermarks) and started writing letters- to us!

This was my letter.

And each of the girls received this letter.

He gave me his card, (he is the CEO of a banking group, apparently) and insisted upon getting my address so he could mail the picture and a letter (no worries, everyone, we have a PO Box, I'll let you know if we get the letter). I think he will be added to my Christmas card list. He then directed us out the door and down some stairs to enjoy the river walk.

We really enjoyed walking along the Sumida River, watching boats, and talking.

We were trying to take a waterfront selfie, when a man came scurrying over to take the picture for us. This is the picture he took.

I just love ivy, and it is everywhere here. I guess that is what a humid climate will do for you.

Lunch was the next order of business. We just got a sandwich from the convenience store and sat in this courtyard to eat. This duo was practicing for a show later that evening, so we got to enjoy some beautiful music as we ate.

The girls love these sandwiches, and there are LOTS of flavors to choose from. Japanese convenience store food is totally kicked up a notch from back home.

Fruit and whipped cream? I'm not so sure about that one...

The wrapper even unfolds to become a handy plate, that you could hold in your lap. Genius!

Eva likes to make everything look like Mt. Fuji.

After lunch, we just wandered down the street next to the hospital and came to a park. They played for a few minutes.

This sand box was perfectly manicured, with some sort of pattern in the sand.  No surprise!

This was the old St. Luke's hospital building that sat right next to the new modern building.

We saw a sign for the chapel, and decided to check it out. WOW!!!

We were met with this amazing, European style cathedral, complete with stained glass windows!

Where are we again? Downtown Tokyo?! Just seeing this chapel would be worth the trip, even without a need for the hospital!

The girls were excited to see a Bible and hymnal, in Japanese.

Next stop, the 7-11 for an ice cream cone. They are packaged in these amazing little holders, which make them so much easier to eat and less messy.

The rim even catches the drips. Again, genius!

At this point, several hours had passed, and the medical tests were still ongoing. After discussing with my friend, she thought she could manage the trains with some written instruction, so the girls and I could go on home. I sat down in the hospital lobby, furiously texting detailed instructions for the trip home, to include four transfers. In the meantime, the girls were being entertained (for over 30 minutes!) in this tiny gift shop by these two sweet ladies. They were teaching them the traditional Japanese girls game of otedama, which is similar to juggling, with these little beanbags called ojami. Traditionally, the game is taught from grandmothers to their granddaughters, isn't that nice? They also showed them how to make an origami cranes. Such kindness.

We bought the ojami, so they could continue practicing otedama. Ella is getting pretty good!

On the train ride home, we got to play with little Hiroka. Her mother knew just enough English and I knew just enough Japanese, that we had a truly wonderful visit. And we LOVED little Hiroka, who will turn one on Halloween.

So, for not really setting out to adventure today, (we didn't even leave the street of the hospital) we had such an amazing day! We were blessed by the kindness of so many different strangers, my friend successfully navigated her way home through the vast Tokyo train system, and her husband's medical tests came back 99.9%, nothing to worry about. God is so good!

July 26, 2014

Chinatown, Yokohama,Tokyo

Tokyo's Chinatown, in the waterfront neighborhood of Yokohama, is said to be Asia's largest. (I can't help but think, as opposed to just being in China? But, maybe I am getting too literal!) Anyway, we had a wonderful afternoon and it actually did have a very different vibe than other Tokyo neighborhoods.

Space is such a premium, that the parking garages are high rise buildings. You drive in, and get out of your car, then they raise your car in an elevator, to the parking spot.

Ready for the adventure to begin...

Finding some lunch was our first order of business. We were hoping to find some dim sum, but mainly just saw lots of buffet restaurants. Then we passed this restaurant that was packed, and decided to take a closer look. There was no seating inside though, so you order at the counter and eat outside, like street food.

There were large windows at the front, and you could watch these ladies filling and rolling these dumplings. It was some sort of pork filling, like in gyoza.

They worked so quickly and every dumpling was so perfectly uniform.

Then they quickly fried them to brown the tops.

Steaming was next.

And, voila, the finished product. Each color had a different filling, but I couldn't really detect the difference. They tasted good, but were very hard to eat. Juice literally shot out of the dumpling when you bit it, then it was very slippery and hard to pick up with chopsticks. So, all in all, I didn't love them as much as I  thought I would.

The girls chose the steamed pork buns, which were amazing! I went back in for one more. 

After lunch, we had fun wandering the streets.

We kept noticing roasted chestnuts, everywhere. I wondered what the significance of them were to Chinese culture. We googled it and found out that they were the first nut introduced in ancient Chinese cuisine and were also used ceremonially, for many things, including an increased chance having lots of sons. (We joked that I must not have eaten many chestnuts, Matt told the girls he wouldn't let me.) So, we even learned something today.

We were given a sample, and the texture was a lot like a potato. I liked them.

We also saved room for dessert! We first tried egg tarts in Singapore, and so when we saw them at a small bakery, that was a must! It is basically custard in a pastry shell.

I also wanted to try one of these sesame covered balls. I had seen them in many shops, and was intrigued.

It was filled with red bean paste (sweetened azuki beans) and I loved the chewiness of the sesame seeds. Definitely, very different. Japanese sweets are just mildly sweet, never overly rich.

We came across two very ornate temples. This was the first.

I still can't get over the amount of intricate details on these temples!

I love this daddy/daughter selfie!

This is the gate of the second temple. Such a beautiful display of color.

In the courtyard,  there were these two large guys walking around in front of the temple. I am assuming they are the guards, to scare off evil spirits.

There is always incense. I love the smell. 

And, everyone needs a Hello Kitty photo op!

An interesting side note: Almost everywhere you go in Tokyo, there are people handing out advertisements on little packets of tissue to passersby. The nice thing though, these are actually useful! I go out of my way to collect these, they are the perfect size for my purse. Too bad I have no idea what they are advertising!

And back to the parking garage. Your car comes out already turned around and ready for you to drive away. Convenient!

An awesome day exploring Chinatown. I loved the exotic atmosphere, and the food!

July 23, 2014

A rainy day trip to the Tokyo Fire Museum

We ventured to the Tokyo Fire Museum with some friends, last week. It was a great rainy day activity and was full of exhibits about Tokyo's firefighting history. This city has seen some fires!

 The train is always a good time, and we actually got seats! This is Zach and Sienna, our adventure buddies for the day.

Upon entering the building, we were met with a room packed full of firemen, there must've been some sort of training or seminar going on. They were thrilled to pose with the kids for a picture, of course. (The saluting was their idea, love it!)

The dress up station was a favorite. 

Also, lots of fire trucks, boats and helicopters to see. 

Some fun with Zach. 

This was a little cartoon about fire, no English though, but the kids watched it intently anyway. Haha! 

Ella especially loved this helicopter simulation. It showed a movie that looked as though you were flying over Japan. This was pretty fun for me too!

Also, a hands on exhibit where you could guide the little fire engine to the building that was on fire. (All the kids picked out which house they would want to live in, totally something I would've done as a kid!)

The Japanese love a good photo opportunity. Why not? 

On the final floor there was a craft to make and take home. They folded these cute ambulances into a cube and tied a string to them. After that, it was time to head for home.

Our train stop is connected to a mall that we wander through after adventuring. Today, we stopped at a small shop for a traditional Japanese pancake called taiyaki. Pancake batter is poured into the fish shaped molds, then stuffed with different fillings, most commonly red bean paste, but there are always some sweet or savory choices.

The girls chose the custard filled taiyaki (tasted just like vanilla pudding). They were served warm and were amazing! We were so glad our friend Linda introduced us to this shop. We will be returning very soon! 

The perfect outing for a rainy day!