Onsen Theme Park

I just noticed that there was a raisin stuck to the top of the inside of Nico’s mouth. This wouldn’t be a problem except that it’s the same raisin that I gave him more than two hours ago at the grocery store. I guess we’re not quite ready for raisins yet.

Argggh! I’m running behind now. I wanted to do a timely cherry blossom piece but now the sakura have already come and gone… Oh well, I’ll post regardless. Come to think of it, this post isn’t really about cherry blossoms anyway (at least not that much). It’s about bad fortunes, baths and giant penises so who cares if it’s all coming a bit late!

A few weeks ago it was cherry blossom season here in Tokyo and since my friend Kate was visiting, I took full advantage of this marvelous time of year in Japan and spent a week being a tourist and taking lots of pictures.

A trip to Sensoji Temple at  Asakusa. This day will stand out as the one on which I received the worst fortune in all my 30 years of receiving fortunes in all their various shapes and forms.  In case you can’t read it well, here is what

the English translation said:

“You can’t tell your request to others, holding it in your mind. Misfortune happens to you repeatedly, just like a fire burns your house. Trouble danger be at you continuously, you should be very careful, that you may loose the most important article for you life. Your request will not be granted. The  patient will get worth. The lost article will not be found. The person you wait for will not come. Stop building new house and removal. Stot starting a trip. Marriage and employment are both bad.”

Geez…

I’m not too worried though as it seems a bit unlikely that absolutely everything could go wrong in my life at once. Now if it had said mostly good things and only one bad thing- like for example, if it had said “Your travels will be many and you will receive a promotion BUT trouble danger be at you continuously,” well then I might be a bit concerned. Also, Kate also received a terrible fortune as well and the chances of everything in both my life AND her life being shot to hell seem really quite slim to me. But then again, maybe I’m just an optimist.

The day after receiving these dire pronouncements we decided to risk it and journey off to Oedo Onsen Monogatari Onsen Theme Park in Odaiba. That’s right! An entire theme park dedicated to taking baths! After paying, we chose our yukata (sort of like an informal cotton kimono) and set about to exploring. The entire place is set up to look like old Edo and there are fake streets lined with shops and restaurants under a fake starry night sky. Unfortunately we were operating under a bit of a time constraint which meant that rather than spending an entire day in this Disneyesque spa, we were forced to zip through, rushing from one activity to the next as though competing in some sort of surreal reality show obstacle course.

First- Spend 5 minutes taking clothes off and donning yukata. One might think this is a piece of cake but when you are trying to be nonchalant about being naked in front of someone you’ve known for 15 years but have never actually been naked in front of (not to mention the dozens of other naked strangers roaming about), and you are also trying to make sure that you don’t tie our yukata the way that only dead people do, it can be a bit stressful.

30 seconds are spent taking hurried photo to document experience. This photo will not be shown anywhere ever.

5 minutes to thoroughly wash selves before entering bath. Discuss weirdness of setting naked bum down where thousands of other naked bums have sat before. Accidentally spray person in back of me with shower nozzle. Again, try to be nonchalant. Unsuccessful.

20 minutes to sit and soak away all of life’s stresses. Spend what seems like 5 minutes in tiny teacup shaped wooden outdoor bathtub and then a few more minutes in a sort of pond-like thing. Realize that we are late for our massages and dash back into locker rooms to change back into yukata. Again, making sure to not tie it like dead people.

20 minutes of massages given by two little old men. Kate’s masseur apparently decides that one of her legs is shorter than the other and spends a fruitless 10 minutes trying to stretch it out so that it will match the other leg. When this strategy fails to achieve results he spends another few minutes pounding upwards on the bottom of the foot attached to the longer leg. Nothing seems to work and he sighs in exasperation. (At least this was her theory on what was going on)

15 minutes of scarfing down tempura and soft ice cream in Old Edo. I don’t think they had soft ice-cream machines back in Old Edo but whatev.

5 minutes of putting clothes back on so that we can dash back and be home in time to relieve Mr. D of his babysitting duties. Ah, there’s nothing like a bit of relaxation…Oh and hey! If you’re ever in Tokyo and feel like heading out to the onsen theme park but perhaps don’t know what to do with your dog companion, never fear for there’s a dog onsen right next door

Special Small Animals

The other day I went in to the small neighborhood fabric store to ask them if they had any zigzagged blossom viewings. Naturally they were confused as you probably are now as well. What I needed was a pair of pinking shears so I had meant to ask for a pair of scissors with a zigzagged blade. Unfortunately I got the words for blossom viewing (hanami) and scissors (hasami) mixed up and well, you can see why things got a bit out of hand.

But guess what?! I wasn’t done yet, oh no! On Friday I returned to the same store, this time in need of one of those small thingies you can use to insert elastic into fabric casings. The conversation between the sales clerk and I went a bit like this:

Me: Excuse me, but do you have any small animals that can help me put elastic into a fabric casing?

Sales Clerk: (After a long moment’s pause) I’m sorry, what?

Me: It’s a small animal I’m looking for.

One that can go through here (holding up the project) with an elastic.

Sales Clerk: (Possibly contemplating calling the nearest emergency medical team as it can’t possibly be safe to let a woman who expects small animals to help her with her sewing walk around with a baby. Who did I think I was anyway? Cinderella?) Small animals? Umm, we don’t have animals here.

Me: (Sighing patiently) You see, in my country, America, we have special small animals that help us insert the elastics. It makes it much easier.

Sales Clerk: Well…. what about this? (holding up a small tool which was exactly what I’d been looking for)

Me: Yes! That’s exactly what I’ve been looking for!

When I got home and looked in my dictionary  I found out that I’d confused the word “tool” for “animal.” A mistake anyone could make right?

Another Day in Tokyo

Today Nico and I woke up with no plans. It used to be that I relished having a day home with nowhere to go but these days there’s nothing I dread more. The mornings are okay. We wake up, have our coffee and breakfast and play with some toys. Then Nico takes a brief nap and I hurriedly have even more coffee (but this time uninterrupted which makes it 15 timesbetter). After Nico wakes up from his nap we have perhaps another 45 minutes before he comes to the unevitable conclusion that actually, he has already seen all these toy 5 gazillion time before and you know what? They suck. Not only that, he also realizes that he has already explored each hidden nook in the living room and that to do so again would be totally redundant.

What else is left to do? He has already played with all three remotes, reset my cellphone so that it rings to the tune of La Bamba, removed all 57 DVDs from their holding case and taken all my socks and underwear out of their drawers and strewn them around the bedroom. In short, there is NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING left in this house that will provide even another minute of entertainment. Not even the plastic lid to the food processor which is usually good for 15 minutes of inexplicable fun will do. It is a stupid stupid lid which will be promptly chucked back into the face of she who produced it. There is NOTHING and thus the whining must commence. It’s at this point that I realize that we really have to get out of the house.

Luckily one of my neighborhoodfriends happened to be free (and being the mother of another 10 month old, equally desperate) so we decided to go over there for a visit. After a few hours playing with the unfamiliar and therefore BETTER toys, Nico was in a much improved mood and we decided to go on a walk to explore the nearby neighborhood of Kitami. Kitami is small and not the most interesting of places but in Japan you can always be assured of a bit of entertainment wherever you go and even Kitami is no exception.

In the supermarket we were serenaded by a four year old Japanese boy who having spotted foreigners, was obviously determined not to waste the opportunity. From the time I arrived at the check-out line to when I left the store, I was treated to an entire line-up of popular children’s songs in English. He started off with Monkeys Jumping on the Bed and then launched directly into the ABCs. After that I thought he might take a break but instead it was onto Eensy Weensy Spider and then Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. As I walked from the cashier to the bagging counter (in Japan they have separate counters where you bag your own groceries), the child followed me, assiduously performing all the motions to each song with the intensity of someone auditioning to sing The Star Spangled Banner at the next World Series. In truth, his focus was actually a bit scary. He was such a professional that I almost felt as though I owed him something at the end. A quarter or a skittle or a salute of some sort.

After leaving the supermarket, we quickly dodged into a small children’s clothing store where I almost bought a tiny t-shirt which proclaimed the goodness of “Flesh Food”. Then it was time to head back home. On the way we saw two tiny dogs dressed in plaid mini-skirts.

Hokkaido

Our trip to Hokkaido (the northern island of Japan) started out typically with Mr. D and I almost missing our flight. This is a fairly run of the mill occurrence for us so I won’t go into details. Basically it involved the both of us dashing down various Tokyo train platforms and screaming in rudimentary Japanese at everyone we knocked out of our way. At the time I thought we were saying that we were late and in a hurry. Upon later reflection however, I realized that it was more along the lines of- “Excuse me! We are very busy! We are very slow! We are slow and busy! Please! We are slow!” When we got to the airport we again announced to the airline clerks that we were both slow and busy. Obviously used to slow and busy foreigners, they escorted us quickly to our plane with the utmost courtesy.

The trip after that was absolutely fantastic. We went with our friends Jenn, Paul and little Lucy Momo (Peach) who was born two days after Nico. The two babies are fantastic friends and can spend many a happy minute yanking a cell phone back and forth out of each other’s hands and delving into one another’s nostrils. One can also be depended on to make the other laugh simply by crying. Little sadists.

The first day we went to the Snow Festival in Sapporo, the place where you can find just about any cartoon character you can think of sculpted entirely out of ice and snow. After about two hours of wandering around in the frigid cold however, I started to get restless. “What’s up with all these stupid kid’s characters they’ve got here? I’m sick of Miffy and who cares about Pokemon?” “I think the kids like it” said Mr. D. “Kids? Yeah, whatever. Don’t they see enough of this crap in their lives already? Do they really need to see it all made out of snow too? Most of them are over there huddled in the igloo anyway. Why don’t they just give the people what they really want to see? Paris Hilton’s head made entirely out of ice cubes. Or why not carve J.Lo’s ass or sculpt a life sized George Clooney just stepping out of the shower? Now that would really be something. Or how about 150 chihuahuas all perched on telephone polls just like the birds in that Hitchcock movie! Imagine how cool that would be!

The next day we left Sapporo and took a bus up to the ski resort. I was a bit reluctant to leave our inn. Not because it was such a great place to stay but rather because it was situated right next door to a place called “The Body Laboratory.” This was proclaimed on a decrepit little sign hanging off of the building with no storefront in sight. I assumed it was on the second floor and had no end of fun speculating about what exactly they might do at “The Body Laboratory”. I imagined it must be something incredibly sci-fi and wicked. Sewing eyelids onto kneecaps or dying people purple. Staying next door to a place like this made me feel as though my life was very thrilling in a 1960s spy sort of way. I imagined myself in a cat suit with Nico strapped to my back wearing a matching infant sized cat suit. We’d lower ourselves down into The Body Laboratory via a rope through the roof and set all those purple people free. (In the middle of writing this I took a break in order to google “The Body Laboratory” and guess what? Not one single match for a business with that name. This makes me think the whole thing may be even more on the down-low than I’d previously thought. Must make further covert inquiries…)

Once we got to the resort, we commenced to have two absolutely fantastic days of skiing. The snow was perfect and the famous Hokkaido crab was delicious. Nico and Lucy Momo had fun too with the exception of one unfortunate incident when an entire crew of cafeteria ladies descended upon them while they were playing in the ski lodge. Before I even realized what had happened, both Lucy and Nico had been scooped up into the arms of two of the ladies while the rest of them immediately whipped out their cell phones in order to take pictures of the little gaijin (foreign) babies. Of course they both screamed their heads off but luckily the trauma was short lived and they were soon back to sucking on the wheels of their strollers and taking turns knocking each other down.  Later, they even took a bath together which was pretty damned adorable. During the bath I was caught on video in all my glory, dumping an entire bottle of white baby shampoo on top of Nico’s head. Luckily, Nico didn’t seem to notice that it looked as though a Golden Eagle (or similar bird of very large stature) had just taken a giant shit upon his head and we all carried on.

Now we’re back in Tokyo and life is returning to normal. Nico is lying on his belly behind me, picking lint off the carpet and putting it in his mouth. As for me, I’m still wondering when that person with the broom will get here.

Got Miruku?

One of my favorite things about living in Japan is the continual sense of unexpected possibility. You never know what might happen or what you might see each day when you wake up in the morning. Perhaps the the local garbage men might drive by with a special niche in the side of their truck where a stuffed Winnie the Pooh rides. Or maybe 5 little dogs all wearing sunglasses will trot merrily past you as you walk down the street to meet a friend for coffee.

Even after two years, there’s still so much I don’t understand about this country and although it can certainly be frustrating at times, I think that if I knew all the answers, much of the magic would be removed.  For example, on my way to the train station I pass a dog grooming salon. Inexplicably, this salon seems to have a fascination with transportation and there is always some sort of scooter or giant tricycle on display in front of the salon. What’s the connection with dog grooming? I really don’t know. The best times are when they put out a giant motorcycle made entirely of wicker.  Naturally if I spoke Japanese I could just pop in and ask the groomers what the deal is with the trikes and the wicker and so on. Actually, my Japanese is good enough that I could ask that but it’s not good enough for me to understand the answer.

The other morning I went to pour myself a cup of coffee when to my dismay I realized that we were out of milk. Now some people can drink their coffee black if they have to but I’m not one of those people. When I smoked I needed my orange juice and in my coffee I need my milk and sugar. I’m very serious about these things. So anyway, there we were. Me sitting blearily on the couch with my empty coffee mug, and Nico sitting on the floor, snatching aimlessly* at invisible objects in the air. Did I care that my 9 month old son appeared to be exhibiting signs of becoming an infant schizophrenic? No I didn’t. I was too tired to care because I didn’t have any MILK and thus no coffee.

The doorbell rang. Who could it be?  Nobody EVER comes calling unexpectedly at our apartment save for a a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses and one time, a woman who announced that she was my neighbor Yoko Ono and that she wanted to be my friend and practice her English. She came bearing the gifts of a key chain and a small microwave pizza. The bell rang again and as I shambled to the door in my bathrobe I just hoped thatit wasn’t the Witnesses again. Until then I had successfully avoided them by feigning a complete ignorance of every language they had attempted to speak with me. So far they had displayed themselves to be remarkably and quite unfortunately multilingual and had already given me literature in Japanese, Spanish, French and English. Perhaps this time they’d try something more exotic. Finnish or Gaelic perhaps? I cautiously opened the door to reveal a  Japanese man holding a small glass bottle of milk. He started to speak but when I seemed confused, he thrust the milk at me, said “Miruku des (It’s milk)” and then scurried off.

Well well well I thought to myself as I went back inside, “They” really are watching me. I always suspected it but I guess this just proves it. It’s not just me, Nico and the cast of CNN then after all because someone out there knew that I needed milk. Perhaps he was the fairy godmother I’d always dreamed of. Granted, I’d never expected my fairy godmother to turn out to be a middle-aged Japanese man with a bad comb-over and a Member’s Only jacket but life is full of surprises. A few hours later the doorbell rang once more. I peeked through the window and saw that it was my fairy godmother again. What might he have for me this time I wondered. I opened the door but instead of the grilled cheese sandwich and Hershey’s bar that I’d been hoping for, the man handed me a flier on which was written something in English about a neighborhood milk delivery service. The earlier bottle had been a sample.  As I shut the door a few minutes later, I found myself wishing that I had been out when the man had come back with his flier because as convenient as a milk delivery service may be, nothing could match up to the magic of having my very own fairy godmother. Especially one wearing a Member’s Only jacket.

*Later, a caffeine fueled investigation revealed that what Nico was actually snatching at were floating particles of dust. Now I just need to sit here and hope for someone with a broom to show up.

Oh Brother

When my brother and I both used to live in New York City we spent lots of time together. We’d go out to restaurants and talk about our boyfriends and he’d lament the fact that although I may have decent fashion sense otherwise, I can’t choose a bag or a pair of shoes to save my life. Every Christmas he gives me a new pair of high heels and a swank purse yet I still think that a Prada dress goes perfectly fine with a Jansport backpack and some clogs. Or, I guess I don’t really think that but for whatever reason I always seem to wind up making such fashion blunders anyway. I’m accesorslexic.

A couple of years ago Jake moved to L.A. to do famous people’s makeup and I moved to Tokyo to do other less glamorous sorts of things. Since then I’ve only seen him a few times, usually when we’re surrounded by other family members and don’t have much time to talk with each other. Yesterday though, I spent the whole day with my brother and it was great! We went to lunch together where we both developed a crush on our waiter and then off to see Walk the Line.

In the car on the way to see the movie while talking about Jake’s upcoming trip to Tokyo with the Hilton sisters:

Me: So ask me how to say something in Japanese. But not something too difficult… but not too easy either. (I always try to show off by playing this game with people but no one is ever interested and without fail they always quickly become bored. This never deters me however.)

Jake: Um, I don’t know

Me: Oh come on! Ask me! Ask me!

Jake: Ok then… how do you say “Can you recommend a good prostitute for me?”

Me: Oh- Well, I don’t know the word for prostitute but I do know the word for pervert… How about “Who is the best pervert?” I can say that in Japanese…

Jake: Okay thanks

Living in Japan sure has paid off.

The Tale of the Irresistable Salary Man

Last week when we sat down on the train Nico decided that he desperately wanted, no, needed to touch the Japanese salaryman sitting next to us. I let him pat the man quickly on the sleeve in the hopes that this might quench his desire for just a bit. Unfortunately it did just the opposite and when he tried to touch a second time and I pulled his hand away, he screwed up his face with frustration and let out a piercing whine. Because it was definitely the sort of whine that promised more to come, I reevaluated the situation. Since I believe that Nico and I are usually seen as quite a charming pair and I’ve discovered that many people don’t actually mind being touched by a cute baby, I was hoping that this man might be one of them and that he’d let Nico fondle him all he wanted. The day before we’d ridden next to an elderly woman who was wearing a diamond pin which Nico coveted with all his little heart. He’d stretch out his hand repeatedly towards the pin but didn’t have long enough arms to reach it. Luckily the woman didn’t realize that she was being accosted by a 66 cm tall pickpocket and mistook his efforts as mere friendliness. She let him hold her finger and made kissy noises at him for the entire ride. He never did get his hands on the pin but everyone was more or less happy.

This man however, was clearly not in the mood to be touched by a drooling baby with bananas smeared all over his eyelids and he didn’t even crack a smile as Nico pathetically cried and lunged towards him only to be restrained by his frazzled and profusely apologizing mother. I began to hope that if I let Nico touch the man just one more time, he might lose interest and move onto his next target. Perhaps the teenage girl who was sitting on our other side and had a cellphone from which hung a variety of shiny sparkly Winnie the Pooh (or “Pooh-san” as he is known in these parts) trinkets which would tempt even the most jaded of babies. But no, Nico had his sites set on this drab looking man and while he seemed like a fairly unappealing creature to me, Nico apparently felt otherwise. I allowed him to touch the man’s sleeve once more but this time it wasn’t so easy to pull him away and I had to pry each little finger one by one from the man’s shirt cuff. The screams became even louder and more frantic. No, it was clear that nothing short of a full exploration of the man and all his possessions would satisfy him. From past experience I knew that this would entail a good slurp on the man’s jacket, a gnaw on his briefcase, a lengthly licking of his cellphone and a leisurely perusal of the inside of the man’s mouth and nostrils.

Since that was clearly out of the question, I had no choice but to get up and move, leaving a visibly relieved man behind. Nico on the other hand, was devastated and wailed as though I had just torn him from the soul-mate he’d been searching for all his life. I didn’t feel too badly though because he was just as attached to the scotch tape I’d tried unsuccessfully to pry from his hands a few hours before. “Nicolas,” I told him as I tried to calm him by holding him and then making a series of epileptic like jerks with my body, “You really shouldn’t have both scotch tape AND a businessman in one day and until you’re old enough to choose which is more important to you, you can’t have either one. Personally, I’d pick the tape”. Slightly faulty logic? Perhaps. But when your child is trying to attach himself to random strangers on public transportation, it’s time to pull out the big guns and if that means spouting nonsensical statements in your best wise-mommy tone of voice, well, that’s what you have to do. Besides, it’s true that I would definitely choose the tape.

I Hope So

“I hope so!” This is not the answer that a pregnant woman wants to hear when she asks her doctor if he thinks her baby is doing all right. Unfortunately, “I hope so” seems to be my Japanese obstetrician’s favorite way of reassuring all my various anxious queries. “Do you think that the baby will start moving soon?” “I hope so!” “Is the baby’s heart beating?” “I hope so!” “Will the delivery wing construction be done in time for my baby’s birth?” “I hope so!” I think that he must think that “I hope so” sounds a lot more reassuring than it actually does. I want to explain this to him and suggest possible alternatives (i.e. “You bet it will!”) but there never seems to be enough time during my visits. The one ultrasound video that Mr. D and I have taken so far pretty much sums up the scenario. In it, you can see a blurry black and white screen with a bloblike object swimming around on it, while echoing in the background, all that can be heard are the words “I hope so!”

At my last ultrasound the doctor started off by smacking his hands together and announcing “Now we will check your baby’s abnolali…abnormer…aborn…abmoralities!” I reacted by abruptly sitting up and practically screaming out, “What do you mean?? You can see that he has abmoralities, um… I mean abnormalities!??” “Oh no no!” chuckled the good doctor of reassurance, “I mean, I just want to see if he has any ab.. abromal…alolbalities. I hope he is fine.” Right. Terrific.

A few minutes later…

“Aha!” (said my doctor while pointing at the screen) “Now see, this is your baby’s blain. It is a very small blain you see? Children with chromosomal abroralities also have very small blains.”

Me: (with horrified look on my face) “What are you saying?! Is something wrong with his brain?”

Dr: “Oh chuckle chuckle ha ha ha…No your baby’s blain is not so small as that. Your baby will be very clever. I hope.”

So you see people. It’s not so easy to be pregnant in a foreign country. Here I am, 5 months pregnant with a doctor who says that he hopes my baby has no “blain abmoralities” and a delivery room that as far as I can see, has not even been built yet.

Japanese

Story #1 Which Demonstrates That Not Being Able to Speak the Language Can Be Embarrassing

I’ve mentioned to you all before that Japanese is not an easy language to learn. When I first moved here I had no intention whatsoever of studying it beyond whatever necessary phrases I might need for basic politeness. I had just spent the previous six months living in South America and learning Spanish and I really figured that one new language was enough for the time being. Mr. D on the other hand, was determined to learn this language and he was determined to drag me along with him in this endeavor. I’m not sure what it was in the beginning that convinced me to try… It could have been the fact that after my first few months of living here, I realized that despite my initial expectations, everyone in Japan does NOT speak English and that knowing Japanese would actually make my life a hell of a lot easier. Or maybe it was just my innate sense of competition- how could I allow Mr. D to learn it and not learn it myself ? No no no! That would never do. If he was going to learn it, I was going to learn it too and learn it BETTER! Nine months later we’re still studying and although we’ve certainly made progress, I’m still lucky if I can manage a very basic conversation with someone about the weather. Sometimes it feels like half the time I speak, people don’t understand and the other half, they laugh. To be honest, I don’t blame them. The following are some of my recent faux pas…

-“I’ve decided to start painting pictures of carrots because I went to see an art show where they had young carrots dressed up in a sexual manner and it really inspired me .” (When trying to describe an exhibition of dolls that I’d seen. This would have gone fine except for the fact that I got the words for doll “ningyo” and carrot “ninjin” mixed up.)

-“I decided to walk home last night because there were so many pretty fish in the trees!” (This time mixing up the words for cherry blossom “sakura” and fish “sakana”.)

-“Last year I traveled for 6 months and studied Spanish on the Nambu (a subway line in Tokyo- the word for South America is Nanbei- an understandable mistake no?)

-“I really love it when candy falls from the sky” (The words for candy and rain are almost interchangeable to the nonnative speaker so…)

Story #2 Which Demonstrates That Not Being Able to Read the Language Can Be Embarrassing

Recently Mr. D had to buy a new white shirt to wear to his cousin’s wedding in Italy. While shopping in a Tokyo department store he came across a rack of white button down shirts which were marked for only 2,000 yen (roughly $20). Thinking he’d found a great bargain, he searched through them for a while, pulling several out and holding them up against himself. He had just begun to wonder why there were no shirts in larger sizes when he looked around at the surrounding racks and realized that he was shopping in the high school girl’s uniform section.