Friday, February 25, 2011

Aliens, Divine Appointments, and Growing Pains

Last Friday, Matthias and I went to the Ward Office in Shibuya to register as aliens.

No, not those kind of aliens!

According to, All foreigners, who stay in Japan for more than 90 days, need to apply for an alien registration card within the first 90 days of their stay. Applications are to be made at the local municipal office (e.g. city hall). The alien registration card is an important document required for opening a bank account, obtaining a cell phone and similar activities. Foreign residents are required to carry their alien registration card with them at all times.

Philip's company works with a relocation company to help with our transition to Japan. They scheduled a relocation specialist to accompany M and I to the ward office last Friday and translate for us.  I had a really hard day last Thursday.  Everything difficult about this transition seemed to be hitting me.  Matthias was (and is) going through a fussy time, making it hard to predict when would be a good time to go out without a meltdown.  I was really missing family, friends, English speakers, and familiar American things.  Philip has been absolutely swamped at work, working about 11 hours a day plus commuting an hour each way.  I knew that I had an appointment to go to the ward office the next morning and I was in tears walking Matthias to sleep that night, dreading having to get myself together in the morning and do a bunch of bureaucratic stuff.  I kept thinking that I would be met by a single Japanese woman with impeccable clothes, hair, and makeup, who might feel uncomfortable with me needing to nurse Matthias in public.  Little did I know that God had a divine appointment to encourage me...

He sent a German woman, married to a Japanese man (hence her Japanese last name), who was not only a mother of SIX, but also a follower of Christ who described English as the language of her heart (of the three languages she speaks).  She was kind and compassionate, understood Matthias's needs, and talked freely about her experiences as a foreigner in Japan, as a mom, and as a believer.  To top it off, she has a son who has some special needs and was eager to talk about occupational therapy!  Resources for children with special needs are seemingly more difficult to obtain here in Japan, so not only was she a blessing to me, but I had the privilege to be a blessing to her by lending an understanding ear to her concerns and offering a few suggestions.  It was such a refreshing time.  She helped us get registered, showed me where to find a good pediatrician for Matthias, and introduced me to the paradise called Azabu National, the international grocery store.

On Monday, our sea shipment arrived!

Just a portion of our many boxes and wrapped furnishings
It was so exciting to see our stuff arrive, and Matthias really enjoyed supervising the movers.
Supervising with Mommy
Supervising with Daddy
Perched atop the boxes for a better view!

On Tuesday, the movers continued helping us unpack the boxes and assemble furniture, leaving us with many piles around the apartment.  I am hoping they will disappear soon, but a certain almost four-month-old has been keeping his mommy pretty busy and rather sleepy!  He seems to be going through a growth spurt, eating frequently and prolifically, in addition to dealing with some teething pain/discomfort.  It's been a tough week or two, but he's worth it!  Seriously, who could resist this face?

Chewing on his favorite teether...Daddy's finger!
I hope to add some posts soon with pictures of our neighborhood, our furnished apartment, and our little cutie!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Our Tokyo Apartment

Again I've been terribly negligent about keeping up with the blog. I have been feeling very overwhelmed the last week or so, and have had difficulty getting my thoughts organized and into blog format. I realize that I probably need to keep the entries a little shorter, so that I can keep my content more current. However, I have been working on this sizable post with lots of photos whenever life (and Matthias) would allow. Several people have asked for pics of our apartment here in Tokyo, so here we go...

When you enter the front door, there is an entry way with shoe closets. Very important since shoes are generally not worn in Japanese homes. You can't tell from the pic, but the open closet is full of shelves from left to right and the closed closet on the right side of the picture is also full of shelves. I think we would need a LOT more shoes to fill these babies up!

If you go through one door off the entryway, you will enter our amazing living/dining room: It is VERY spacious and has hardwood floors and windows galore!

We actually figured out that this room alone is bigger than our entire beloved apartment in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington, VA.

One of the best things about this room for the winter season is that the room can be warmed via radiant heat in the floor. It is wonderful to step on such warm floors when your feet are cold! Matthias likes to play on the cozy floors, too.

The kitchen is open to the living and dining area and has a very nice island. The cabinets and countertops are not my style at all (too contemporary!), but the kitchen is very functional and attractive, nonetheless.

Our guest room/office is also off the living room. We are hoping it is utilized many times by our family members and friends (HINT, HINT). It will soon have furniture when our sea shipment with the majority of our belongings arrives.

When you step of the sliding door in living room, there is a lovely deck with a view of other balconies and decks, as well as the outdoor paths and gardens. We bought some wicker chairs for enjoying this outdoor space, but are using them in the living room until our sea shipment arrives.

There is a powder room off the entryway with the first of our three high-tech toilets. These things crack me up. When you enter the bathroom, the lid lifts, a nightlight turns on, and the seat is WARMED.

After you do your business, you have multiple cleansing and drying options, and then the toilet flushes and cleans its own bowl. Here is the control panel for the toilet. More buttons than your average cell phone!

Ridiculous, huh? Philip calls them our robo-toilets.

Also off the entryway is a hallway leading to 2 bedrooms and 2 full baths.

Here is the master bedroom.

It is quite roomy with a nice-sized walk-in closet.

The view on this side of the apartment is not as picturesque as the one from the living room due to construction of another apartment complex. However, the construction has not been very noisy or disruptive to our lives thus far. I'm not sure if the walls are more soundproofed or whether this is just a quiet stage of the building process.

Here is Matthias's bedroom. I am so excited for our sea shipment to arrive so that I can recreate the nursery we set up back in Fairfax.

Here is the master bathroom. It is quite luxurious, with a wetroom with a shower and bathtub, double sinks, and another robo-toilet. The wetroom has controls to heat, dry, and vent itself so that you never get cold while showering, can dry out the room as well as dry hanging clothes (and diapers in our case!), and prevent any mildew from forming.

The second full restroom is very similar to the master bath, just a little smaller with different flooring. A sliding door leads to the laundry room, where we have two washer/dryers.

Yes, the same machine can do both jobs, but since Westerners are used to side by side washers and dryers, they gave us two. Having two is very helpful because the capacity is smaller and drying takes much longer. And let's face it, with a three month old I'm doing a bunch of laundry!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, wraps up the tour of our apartment. Right now we are sort of "camping out" with the bare minimum of stuff (basically whatever fit in our suitcases and air shipment boxes). We rented a couch, a coffee table, and a bed. We are becoming very creative during this process, doing things like ironing clothes on a towel on the floor, drinking out of plastic measuring cups, and using a Nalgene bottle as a vase for my Valentine's Day bouquet from Philip.

Living simply in the midst of our uber-luxurious apartment has been quite ironic and has made us realize how little we really need to get by. That being said, I am really looking forward to getting our sea shipment so that I can make this neutral, sterile-feeling place a lot more cozy and colorful. I am also looking forward to having more toys and books for Matthias. I only kept a few with us, because at the time we packed, he really wasn't very interested in toys. But now he loves to shake his rattles, look at and listen to stories, and chew on pretty much everything in sight. So, it's going feel like Christmas when we crack open all the wonderful toys and books we got for shower gifts. I hope you enjoyed getting a glimpse of our life here and I look forward to posting pics of the place when it has all our homey touches.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Coming Out of the Fog: First Impressions of Japan

I feel that we are coming out of a fog of jetlag. Matthias turned the corner on Saturday night and started to sleep much better at night. He still isn't sleeping in longer stretches like he was before we left. But he's sleeping at night, waking up to eat, and then going back to sleep. I'll take it! Coming out of the fog has good and bad aspects. I feel much better physically, but now I have enough brain cells functioning to feel homesick. And that's completely natural and normal, but still sad. I definitely miss my family and friends. And the English language (see number 4 below).

So, here are my first main impressions. I'm sure I will elaborate on these later and start putting up more pics, but here's a start.

1. Everything is smaller.

Spaces: Restaurants, cafes, shops, aisles at the grocery store, elevators, sidewalks, washing machines, you name it. Exception: Our apartment is huge! It is the largest one we have ever lived in, thanks to the company's generous housing policy.

Packages: Milk and juice come in liters, bread in packs of 8 slices, meat in 150 g packages (about 1/3 pound) Exception: Rice is available in HUGE bags.

People: Almost everyone is thin (probably partially due to those small packages and portion sizes) and most women have dainty feet. My usually average shoe size (8 in the US, 24 in Japan) is now the next to largest commonly available. Exception: People on Japanese TV commercials, who are marginally overweight, yet seem to be marketing every diet fad imaginable and using tortuous looking e-stim devices to flatten their abs.

2. Everyone seems polite.

I have yet to see someone acting rude or even remotely annoyed. The salespeople at stores constantly remind you they are at your service, crowds of people walk in an orderly fashion, and everyone makes way for the baby stroller. Men and women open doors for one another, people attempt to help even if they don't speak English, and everyone bows. ALL the time.

3. Women are very fashionable.

This ranges from the classy ensembles of working women, to the date night clothes of sweethearts, to the wild get-ups of teenagers and 20-somethings. Jeans are rare, and if spotted, are definitely skinny and paired with tall boots, not sneakers or flats. Sneakers are almost non-existent. Skirts and dresses are much more common here among all ages and are paired with tights or leggings and boots or high heels. There are girls dressed in Harajuku style with bleached or streaked hair, dramatic makeup, and brightly colored, stare-at-me outfits. I'll have to get some good photos to share.

4. I really, really wish I spoke and/or read Japanese.

It is harder than I thought it would be to shop for basic items, use appliances, read maps, order food, the whole nine yards. There are English words smattered here and there and many pictures on packaging, but still, trying to figure out ingredients, cooking directions, or washing cycles is tough. I've gotta squeeze in some more Rosetta Stone!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Blogging from Tokyo: Our Trip

I have been quite deficient in the blogging area this week due to travel and jetlag. Baby jetlag is no joke! But I am hoping to catch up and share what has been happening the last few days (other than lots of naps). So, here goes:

We left early Monday morning after bittersweet farewells to our families over the weekend. On Sunday night, I felt like it was the night before a big exam - full of butterflies. But we all slept well and got up at 6 to get ready to leave. Mom made us homemade egg mcmuffins and we packed the car. Amazingly, we had minimal traffic on the way to Dulles. Philip dropped off Matthias and I and our luggage off at the terminal and then returned our rental car. He quickly reconnected with us and we got our boarding passes and checked four suitcases and the carseat base without a hitch. Now for security! It was quite a process going through the security line with a baby, a carseat on a stroller base, a diaper bag, a boppy pillow, two backpacks (containing 3 laptops), and two winter coats, but we made it. I think we used 8 of the little gray bins! Unfortunately, I had to wake M up and carry him through the scanner, but he didn't even fuss. Because we traveled business class (thanks to the company's >8 hour travel policy!), we got to hang out in the red carpet lounge, which doesn't actually have red carpet, but does have snacks, drinks, nice bathrooms, and comfortable chairs for nursing! So we chilled out a bit and Matthias nursed and then charmed everyone around him.

When we boarded the flight, I was amazed to see how much room we had! I nursed M through takeoff and he didn't even fuss. He played with us, walked with Philip around the cabin, charmed more ladies, got his first diaper change at 36,000 feet, then ate again and fell asleep.

Here are cute pics of M playing:

He slept for 3 hours in his carseat at our feet, then woke up midflight. I changed him again, and then tried to feed him. He got super fussy (I think his tummy was hurting) so Philip tried to walk him, but was told to sit down because we were having some turbulence. What timing! I started to worry he was going to have a major meltdown and disturb all the passengers around us. But he did "bicycle legs" on Philip's lap, I gave him a paci (which he usually won't take), and he calmed down. When the fasten seatbelt sign turned off, Philip walked him for a bit and then brought him back to me to nurse. He ate and then played and walked with Philip until he fell asleep again, giving Philip and I some time to rest. He slept until we had to pick him up for the landing, at which time he fussed as if to say, "my ride is over?" He only fussed for a total of 10 minutes out of our fourteen hour flight. What a good little traveler and what an answer to prayer!

When we walked into the airport in Tokyo, we found a nursery room that was well equipped with two changing tables, comfortable seats for nursing/feeding, and a big sink for washing up or preparing bottles. What a nice place for moms!

Matthias got changed again and got a full tummy. We claimed our baggage, went through customs without a hitch, sent most of our bags home with a delivery service, and bought tickets for the express train into town. We rushed down to the platform only to realize that we bought tickets for the wrong time and would have to wait an hour unless we could change them. A woman on staff who thankfully spoke perfect English saw us trying to figure out what to do and was incredibly helpful. She escorted us back to the counter, explained our situation to the clerk in Japanese, and even got us a refund for M's ticket, which was unnecessary due to his age. We got on the correct train and got settled. It was set up like a nice coach bus in the US, with places for luggage and comfortable seats. At this point, my measly 1.5 hours of sleep during the flight was catching up with me, but I couldn't fall asleep because I was too excited to be almost there. A lady on staff brought a cooler cart full of snacks through our car, and I bought a riceball, which was basically sushi rice surrounding smoked salmon. It was really tasty!

After about an hour and 15 minutes, we arrived in Shibuya station, one of the busiest subway stations in Tokyo. This is where I really caught a glimpse of the hustle and bustle of the city. The station was full of people on a mission, mostly on their way home from work. It was pretty noisy, but Matthias had fallen asleep on the express train and slept peacefully through the whole experience. We had to buy a farecard for me and get on a train headed to Daikanyama, our new neighborhood, just one stop away. This proved a little tougher than we thought when we had to go down a steep flight of stairs with the stroller, carseat base, one small suitcase, and our backpacks. I waited at the top with Matthias while Philip took a load down to the bottom, trusting that no one would steal our stuff! Two people saw me waiting and gestured to help me carry the stroller down. Very kind, but I thanked them with one of the few Japanese words I know and pointed to Philip, waiting for him to help me with our precious cargo! He picked up M in the carseat and I carried the stroller, and we were almost home. The train was pretty crowded, similar to Boston at rush hour, but soon we were getting off to begin our new life. We had a short walk through our new neighborhood and saw several stores with names in English, which was very comforting amidst all the unfamiliar Japanese characters. I have so much to learn! In just a few minutes, we arrived at our new place, safe and sound. During my next post, I will share about our new apartment and my first impressions of Japan.