Hustle and Bustle

Well, Thanksgiving is over, the turkey is almost gone (almost) the Ishida boys are back at school (albeit grudgingly) and most of us are sick or in recovery. Sounds like a pretty successful holiday weekend to me.

We celebrated in traditional style with our take-out turkey dinner – a tradition I started when we first moved to the states about 8 years ago and one I intend to maintain for years to come. It’s just so much more relaxing than standing over a hot stove and then having your children reject the food anyway. This year our good friends spent the day with us which made the whole day a little more festive and fun. The men watched football, the kids watched Totoro (highly recommended) and the women enjoyed a day when everyone was occupied and they could enjoy a few hours of chatting and sipping on hot mulled wine. Perfect.

I didn’t take any photographs, mainly because it was dark and dreary and I preferred, this year, to simply relax and enjoy the day rather than deal with the disappointment of trying to catch a few moments on film without a decent shot in the bunch.

So, without a thanksgiving photograph to share, I thought a little I Heart Faces challenge photo was in order. This week’s challenge is a tough one – scenic black and white with a person in the photo. A. My photos are 90% colour and, B. I usually choose people OR scenes. It’s rare that I combine the two unless it’s the standard tourist-in-front-of-a-landmark pic.

At first I was focused on finding a landscape shot, but ended up settling on this photograph that shares a little of the hustle and bustle of Yokohama’s Chinatown. Frankly, we didn’t see a whole lot of landscape during our recent visit to Japan but I love that I was able to capture a snapshot of time in the city and I feel as though the black and white places more focus on the people than the bold red and gold colors of the street.

Now, off to lie down and try to kick this illness so I can finish up my Christmas presents this week. Printing and international shipping deadlines are breathing down my neck.

 

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Paper Memories of Hakone

It feels like so long ago that we were in Japan and I keep having to remind myself that it was only a month ago. To be honest, planning a vacation in October has completely messed up my sense of time. Suddenly we were back and it was Halloween and now it’s almost Thanksgiving and Christmas is around the corner. I am madly trying to pull together christmas presents before printing deadlines as well as keeping up with school vacation schedules and work schedules.

It’s a crazy time of the year. But, surprisingly, I am very excited about Christmas this year. Maybe it’s the fact that we have no plans to get on an aeroplane and that I have two boys who are anxiously counting down the days. I know it’s not because we have been threatened with snow this week. I can do without that. (bah! Humbug!)

So all of this makes Japan seem like a lifetime ago and I am doing my best to hold onto the memories – at least until I can find a few moments to write them down.

This week’s I heart faces challenge is “paper” and I found this little gem while going through our photos from Japan. Kei’s mother was extremely camera-shy so of course I made the most of every opportunity to take her photograph when I could and I just love the moment I captured with this shot. It’s not perfect – even a little blurry – but it tells the story of our train ride to Hakone and brings back so many memories.

 

Orange Days

I have been a little lax in posting a follow up to my last post about Japan. I have one coming, just need to find the time to put it into words. In the meantime I’ll post a photograph for the latest I heart faces challenge. This week is Orange and I am pleased to say that we are surrounded by a good deal of it at the moment. Sadly Portland days have become much shorter and so I am forced to enjoy the smallest sliver of colour for about 30 minutes in the morning on the drive to work.

Oh well, at least the weekend offered me an opportunity to take one of the best shots I have managed to capture of Samuel in a long time. While 2.5 years of age brings many wonderful things such as longer conversations, the ability to dress oneself and a new appreciation for books, it also brings the frustrating necessity to scream “NO” at the sight of a camera. So I’ll take the few moments of staying still long enough for the camera when they come my way.

Cute, isn’t he? And I’m not just saying that because I gave birth to him (OK, maybe 80% of it is because I gave birth to him, but he’s still cute).

Five Things I Learned About Japan

I travelled to Japan feeling a little cocky. Kei and I met there about 12 years ago and I lived there for an entire year so I should feel right at home right? Not exactly. Even with 12 months of Japanese living under my belt, I still managed to discover more than a few things that surprised me or pushed me out of my comfort zone – and of course I relished every minute of the challenge.

1. It really can be as crowded as you’ve heard.
12 years ago I lived in a Japanese “city” of 60,000 people – not exactly your bustling metropolis. Kei pretty much lived in the middle of a rice paddy. Sure, we visited Tokyo for weekend trips, but our everyday experience of Japan was far from the crowded trains and busy streets that are shown in the media as “normal” Japan.

Yokohama definitely opened our eyes to life in the city.

After a marathon flight followed by a 90 minute train ride, we finally arrived at Yokohama station. It was about 8pm on a Sunday night and the station looked something like this…

Did I mention that it was 8:00 on a Sunday night?

The Taxi rank looked like this…

… and our home for the week was nestled in this quiet little neighborhood (cough!).

2. It’s easy to find something you’ve never experienced before (and probably never will again)
On our third day in Japan we traveled to Hakone, a lovely little town in the mountains famous for its onsens (japanese bath houses). We spent the day at a huge family onsen complete with a 100 degree pool and fish that clean your feet. No – not a typo. I didn’t have my camera with me but managed to grab a shot of a poster in the hotel we stayed at. There is nothing quite so strange (and weirdly wonderful) as the experience of hundreds of tiny little fish nibbling the dead skin off your feet. I suppose you’ll have to take my word for it.

The same onsen boasted hot baths inspired by drinks. I thought my mother-in-law was kidding when she said there was a coffee pool and a red wine pool but I was proven wrong when we stepped outside to a pool of hot water that gave off a distinct coffee aroma. REAL coffee in the water. Weird but also very enjoyable. We then made our way up the hill to the red wine bath (real bottles of wine added four times a day), the green tea bath, the beer bath and, of course, the sake bath.

Again, no real photos but this poster should give you a good idea. What you won’t get from the photos is the wonderful smell of coffee and wine. I’m considering a red wine bath for our back yard – may be a waste of good wine, but what could be more decadent.

3. The food is just as amazing as I remember.
Oh the food, the wonderful food! No matter how much I try to recreate the experience of Japanese cuisine here in Portland, it will never quite reach the heights of the real thing. From traditional Japanese breakfasts laid out with rice, fish, pickles and the works, to home-delivered sushi that melted in my mouth, the food was definitely one of the highlights.

Check out Samuel with his super-sized children’s meal.

If Thomas had his way we would have eaten soba noodles for every single meal. Thankfully, he was easily distracted by promises of onigiri, japanese curry, ikura sushi and even something a little more adventurous.

I was also able to eat my first okonomiyaki in 12 years. Yes, we made the most of every available eating opportunity, even on the shinkansen

4. Life in Japan can be a little overstimulating.
It starts with the endless flow of people (everywhere!) and continues with the sounds and the constant visual assault. Although I felt as though I were getting used to it by the end of our trip, I found the incredible amount of visual and audible stimulation overwhelming at first. It isn’t sufficient for them to merely say something on a TV show, they have to emphasize it with Japanese writing across the screen (complete with exclamation points!). Walking into Yodobashi camera (one of Japan’s largest electronics chains) was an insane experience. Not only do they carry every single product on the planet (over about seven floors), but they reinforce every product and price with hanging signs and loud announcements.

But I can’t complain too much – they had a full Canon camera section where I was able to play with my dream camera – even if I couldn’t buy it thanks to the sad state of the US Dollar.

5. If you wait long enough and wish hard enough you WILL see Mt. Fuji.
It took a few hours of willing the fog to clear during our visit to my brother-in-law’s house, but Fuji-san finally peeked out from the clouds – just enough for me to capture a tiny sliver on camera. It counts. (Oh, and my brother-in-law may have one of the best views I have ever experienced from someone’s living room)

More stories and photos from Japan coming of course, but I just had to share these initial thoughts while they were still fresh in my mind.