Things I miss about Japan: Vegetable Juice

Even from when I was a small child, I always liked healthy food when given the choice. I would enjoy a snack of fresh fruit, and choose a sorbet over chocolate ice cream. Even though I spent my middle and high school years eating pop-tarts, sugar cereal, hot dogs, cheese sandwiches on white bread, or ramen noodles when made to prepare my own meals, when given the choice in the supermarket, I would always go for fresh fruits and my favorite, the veggie sushi rolls. 
When I went to college, I had a meal plan and was able to enjoy a lot of food on campus, however the prices of food off-campus were scary, especially at my new favorite places, the Japanese market and the Natural Foods market. But at least on campus, there was a Jamba Juice, my new obsession. 
Then I went to Japan. I have never been a picky eater, but just in case, I decided that I would eat whatever my host mother cooked, especially since there were two young children in the home. Except for the first time I tried bitter melon and natto, I kept this promise, and for the bitter melon and natto, they are acquired tastes, I could handle after the 3rd time and now I like them both. 
After the school year was over and I moved to my husband's place for the summer, it was time to explore living and eating in Japan on my own, and it's also when I started Youtube. which resulted in videos like this. 
I miss Japan's vegetable juice. 
I started drinking vegetable juice almost daily at some point during that year, and after I moved back to Japan in 2007 as well. 
The most common kind of vegetable juice is the orange kind, made up mostly of carrot and apple juice, which is a yummy combination by itself, but the juice can have from 7-30 different kinds of fruits and vegetables. And then there are the different colors. There is the green one, which has a bit more of the clear fruit juices and more green veggies, there is the pink one that might have peach juice, strawberry juice, or a little beet juice, there is the purple one that is made with purple carrots and sweet potato and maybe grapes, there were yogurt blends, 50v-50f, 30v-70f, low calorie kind, imitation kind that was half sugar water with added vitamins, there were little jelly cups made with the stuff, the list goes on. And the best thing, of course, is if you were lucky enough to find a sale or an off-brand in some dusty little shop, it was as cheap as 100-150yen per 1 liter bottle....as much or a little bit more than water. 
Some of my days off, when I was alone, I would be too lazy to cook for myself....I would just down a few bottles and then finally make dinner before Yasushi came home. When I had the flu and was stuck in bed for 3 days dizzy with a fever, vegetable juice and Pocari sweat were my sustenance. 
And now, here in Hawaii, I do see the same juice for almost $4.00 a bottle. Which usually wouldn't be a problem, because I would just find a reasonable local alternative. However, the American equivalent, v8, simply does not measure up. Their main product is 100% vegetable juice with mostly tomato, which is not as easy to chug as the sweet apple-carrot blend I was used to. It tastes like bland tomato soup, served chilled. Or in the case of the green v8, some kind of weird green tomato soup. It also contains salt. V8 also makes a 100% juice called Fusion which is similar to the vegetable juice in Japan, however at almost $6 a bottle it is also not something I can chug a bottle of without thought. We do pick up a case of the cans at Costco when they are on sale, though. 
I don't usually complain about not having my favorite juice. However, in the past couple months I have had to go on a juice/bland food diet twice.
First time was when I had my wisdom teeth out last month. To make sure I didn't get a dry socket, I went on a liquid diet the first two days and slowly introduced soft foods from the end of  the second day. I had Starbucks and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf gift cards from the holidays that I put to use to get some liquid cake and stockpile some calories, and the rest of the time I made do with every kind of v-8 I had on hand. And the second time was this week, when I woke up feeling tired and queasy and simply could not stomach any food, I took sips of water and black tea, and finally ate some canned pineapple in the afternoon and chicken soup at night. Today, I had Greek yogurt for breakfast, a salad for lunch, a fruit and vegetable smoothie for afternoon snack, and soba with tofu and wakame for dinner. As you can see, I am still eating/drinking well, but doesn't mean I don't miss my "yasai seikatsu".


Honolulu Festival!!! and other events

Twitter and Facebook are great for recording life events, but sometimes you just have way too much to say for 140 characters or 300 characters or however many they limit you to!

This year has been a whirlwind of activity every day for me, working a full-time job 5 days a week, and since from November of last year until the end of February this year, I worked on my days off at a Japanese daycare, filling in for the owner/head teacher as she went on maternity leave. It was just from 7-12:30 in the morning, but since I try to wake up around 3 or 4 am on my days off anyway, it wasn't that much trouble. The week after I finished at the daycare was the annual Honolulu Festival, which the company I work at plays a huge role in, so we were busy! Plus, Spring Break is coming up and we have so many tour bookings coming in from Japan.

When I was still a student at University of Hawaii, I volunteered in the Honolulu Festival for three years. The first two years I volunteered with the Japanese Culture Club and as a team, we worked on the Daijya-Yama float and danced in the parade with it. The first year I learned the dance, and the second year, me and one other girl were suddenly chosen to teach and lead the dance as there were no other people who had experience! The third year I volunteered individually and helped carry a mikoshi through the parade. And then finally, this year, I was able to actually attend the parade as a spectator with my daughter.

Before that, however, there were two whole days of the festival to enjoy. On Friday, as part of my job, I led a group of elementary school students through the Honolulu Convention Center as a special program that allows the students to enjoy a preview of some of the different things they will see on Saturday and Sunday. My tour group was a class of well-behaved 3rd graders from Hokulani Elementary School. About half of the students had some Japanese heritage and more than a few could speak the language conversationally. I think I would like Chinami to attend Hokulani!

On Saturday, I went out with Chinami to the Convention Center after her nap for a couple hours of fun and music. She enjoyed the taiko and shamisen performances and got to hug one of those giant fuzzy mascot things, and had so much fun just running around.

On Sunday, we went out as a family, rode the bus to Waikiki as traveling in a car was just not an option with the main road being closed, and Chinami loved holding Daddy's hand as I carried her on my back. She got bored of the parade, so after walking around and looking at some of the floats that were waiting, we went to Wailana Coffee House and ate a pleasant, yummy, CHEAP dinner (click on the name for my Yelp review!) and then we walked over to the beach by the Hilton just as the fireworks started. The fireworks were amazing.  We had been debating whether to watch them or just go home early as I had work the next day and Chinami needed to go to sleep when I did, but staying out a little later and watching the 20 minute show was definitely the right decision to make. Chinami was satisfied with all the food she had eaten and watched the fireworks intently. Suddenly, out of nowhere, she began to clap, still watching the fireworks. They were that spectacular. I have watched fireworks on New Year's Eve, July 4th, etc both in my hometown (The Penn's Landing fireworks, fireworks on the baseball field at a Phillies game, etc, pretty big budget things) and in Hawaii, and been to several fireworks shows in Japan.....Japan has turned fireworks into such an absolute art that it leaves our American fireworks in the dust, or smoke, if I may. The fireworks on New Year's Eve and July 4th are usually just big gaudy "lets celebrate by blowing things up in the sky and making lots of noise WOOOOO" events....This was a carefully calculated and well crafted work of performance art in the form of fireworks.  Apparently there was also music that it was synced to but we did not have a radio with us. Around the 15 minute mark, the fireworks that seemed to endlessly sparkle and keep exploding as mini-fireworks, over and over again were particularly stunning.

The Honolulu Festival embodies one of the main reasons I want to live here and raise Chinami here. Sure, the traffic sucks, the parks are overrun with homeless, and it is literally impossible for most people to work for minimum wage and afford housing, but at least here she will be able to experience both my culture and her father's culture, with a bunch of other ones just for fun that I hadn't even thought about (How many people can say their child understands English, Japanese, Tongan and Samoan??) I'm excited to be a part of a company that takes such a huge part in it as well. Maybe Chinami will be in the parade some day too.

So now the Honolulu Festival is over, and I have Tuesdays and Thursdays off. So I decided to get in contact with the owner of Segway of Hawaii again. I miss zipping around on those things and sharing history and aloha with guests to my (new) home so much! She welcomed me back, and I will be working there Tuesday and Thursday mornings on an on-call basis. I went and saw her on Monday after a hectic day at work involving a delayed plane, juggling a tour dispatch, a big workload, and a flat tire on my bicycle that ended with me ripping the tube out and leaving it on the side of the road as it started to rain, and biking home with just the tire on the rim singing Cee Lo Green's song, you can guess which one.

On top of all this, yesterday morning I had all four of my wisdom teeth removed. I had been having pain in them and it was just time for them all to go. Luckily, they were all in straight so the whole procedure took about an hour. No pain, plus I was watching Avatar on their movie screen goggles. And all I had to pay afterwards was the tax, thanks to dual health coverage. (Ironically I paid the tax with my tax-free medical allowance from my paycheck....ahh benefits!)

Well, I have to get ready and go to work, it is almost 3am!


Bicycle commute!!! 自転車通勤

At my new job, I work from 4am-12 or 1pm, 5 days a week. So that means I usually wake up around 2 am, feed Chinami (so hopefully she will sleep a little longer in the morning for Yasushi), prepare her lunch and my lunch for that day, and get on my bicycle around 3:30 or 3:45, depending on my predicted workload that day.
I started riding a bicycle to work when I worked at KCC Farmer's Market and Segway of Hawaii last year because riding the bicycle cost almost nothing compared to a monthly bus pass or $5 round trip, and it was much faster than waiting for the bus and then riding it, plus the walk to and from the bus stop. I wanted to leave and get home as fast as possible for Chinami. 
However, now, I don't have the luxury of a choice. But just because it's my only choice, that doesn't make it bad. There are several benefits to commuting by bicycle.
1. Cheap - my bike cost almost $200 after repairs and buying a U-lock. A monthly bus pass would cost $60 (no buses run at 4am anyway) and parking in my building costs $150/month.(Can't drive and my husband needs the van to get our daughter to school anyway) I've had this bicycle for 2 months so far (my other one was stolen) so I am pretty much going to come out on top in this aspect. 
2. Convenient - Going to the bus stop to catch the only bus that goes to Waikiki which goes the scenic way, I would need at least one hour to get to Waikiki. On my bike, I'm there in 20 minutes at the very most! 
3. 15 minutes a day of easy cycling easily burns 80 calories. Which between that and my 15 minute yoga flow explains why I eat those snacks at the office and still haven't gained a pound!
4. Safer and faster than my only other realistic means of transportation -- walking. My coworker, an old man, used to walk to work, about 30 minutes which would be about the same amount of time it would take me to walk. However, he got mugged and spent a week in hospital, which is why he drives his car instead. If it's not safe for an old local guy to walk in Waikiki, it would be about as safe for this 110lb haole girl to walk in Waikiki at 4am as it would be to drink gasoline while holding a lighter!! 
However, there are drawbacks, and the biggest one is--
1. RAIN. Right now most of the country is in a polar vortex or whatever and getting craploads of snow and cold weather advisories, but here in Hawaii, we have plenty of wind and rain to tell us Winter is here. I still have yet to think of a good way to bike in the rain, for now I just pray to the nature gods to give me a chance, and when that fails, wear board shorts and a raincoat and change into my work clothes when I get there. Also --
2. the road? or the sidewalk? There are only a few places on my route that have designated bike lanes. The rest of the time I'm on the sidewalk, dodging homeless peoples' tents and pedestrians, or in the far right lane weaving around parked cars and nearly getting hit by rude drivers who think people like me are crazy for biking in the rain -- as if we have a choice.

Still, the bicycle commute is the best as far as I'm concerned.



Thanksgiving 2013!!

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. A day long regarded as a day to pig out on a decadent meal of American "comfort foods" and a day to give thanks for the ability to do so. I did both of these things.
Our Dinner

I made a turkey seasoned and stuffed with just bacon, garlic, and onions. (and some Costco no-salt seasoning) 
Wild brown rice and red and black quinoa, soaked overnight and then made takikomi with turkey broth, chicken bouillon, and diced celery and carrots. 
 Creamed spinach, mashed potatoes, corn, brussel sprouts, and gravy. 
 dinner is served!!

Dessert: a double layered kabocha and sweet potato pie, with a crust made of cheerio crumbs, butter and sugar, topped with some whipped cream (from the can!) 

Yasushi came home from work at around 3pm--he got the evening off for Thanksgiving, and he joined Chinami and I for dinner. When you work in the service industry that mainly caters to Japanese customers, getting American holidays off is a privilege, not a right, but this year we were extremely lucky, Yasushi getting the evening off, and me getting a paid holiday in between my usual days off for 3 consecutive days off.

I'm not just thankful to have a work schedule flexible enough to have been able to spend Thanksgiving with the two people that mean the most to me in this world....I am thankful just to be able to work. With little working experience in the US, the competitive job market in Hawaii, and the fact that I have to rely on the kindness of my neighbors, my husband who is working 60+ hours a week, and expensive childcare to take care of Chinami when I am working, I was not confident that I would be able to get a good job....but instead, I got a great job where I can lead groups of guests and hopefully make their day a little better, and I also work in an office with great co-workers, a coffee machine, and needlessly complicated communication systems and excel sheets. Oh, I am also thankful for the kindness of said neighbors. They have given Chinami so much love and taught her so much, sometimes I wonder if Chinami thinks she is really Tongan instead of hapa.

And then there's Chinami. I'm so thankful to be able to be her mother. I'm thankful for having had such a healthy, easy pregnancy, a peaceful home birth and more than enough breastmilk to nourish her and help her through all the difficulties of being a toddler. I'm thankful for every hug, kiss, and smile she gives me, and I'm even thankful for the times she tells me "no" too, because that's how I know that she will be strong and independent. I am also thankful because becoming her mother has helped me overcome many hurdles within myself that were holding me back, and for the first time in my life, I truly have confidence in myself, mentally and physically. I also am thankful to have access to the Internet and library, which gives me a wealth of information which I can use to better my life and my family's life, and work to break the cycle I was unfortunately

born into.
Anyway, with the cost of living the way it is here in paradise, we don't have much in the way of material goods. The money we earn that isn't spent on the bare necessities is mostly put away in hopes that maybe someday we can own, not rent, our home. And I'm fine with that, because I know from experience growing up, that no matter how much you spend on superficial matters and material things, it will not make you happy. Love from my family, working for my money, and being informed and confident, physically and mentally, make me happy.

And the bacon infused turkey was really, really good too. :D


Spirituality. 精神性について

In America, the Christian religion is very prevalent.  Growing up, I pledged allegiance to my nation...which is a (forced) act of patriotism, but within that I had to say the phrase "under God." (and we also had to listen to the national anthem, in which the lyrics glorify bombs and war but alas, this post will be about religion.) In court, you have to put your hand on a Bible and pledge that you will tell the truth "so help you God."

Growing up, I was never really "given" a religion. There were no specific rules or guidelines taught to me about what God we worship or which faith we "belong" to. My mother was Jewish, and my father Christian, much like Tommy Pickle's parents on the Rugrats. (Bottles, spoonfed purees, cribs and playpens and all!) Occasionally we would have a Seder for Passover or light a Menorah for Hanukkah when my grandfather was still alive and had his mental facilities, we celebrated Christmas but never in the Jesus way, in the commercialized Santa-Tree-Presents way. I never have been to a synogague in my life, but I did go to church with my paternal grandmother and with friends on more than a few occasions.

Knowing this, you might say I was lucky to have the freedom to form my own ideas and opinions regarding faith and higher beings. However, it was not so much "freedom" as simply a "lack of guidance".
In high school, I did try to seek out my own spirituality, and I was attracted to Paganism, Wicca, Druidism, and other nature-based religions. I was shamed and ridiculed by my FOO, and they even went as far as to prevent me from having friends that shared my interests. So I was forced to hide my faith, and by the time I went off to college, I was "non-religious" once again.

And then I went to Japan, where most families are non-religious. It is said that Japanese are born Shinto, get married Christian, and die Buddhists. Japanese often ask God for favors and say little prayers, but they are merely praying to their idea or vision of a God, not the Christian God.
In Japan, I went to Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines regularly as both part of my studies and for fun. They are commonly popular sightseeing spots and it is customary to say a small prayer or buy an o-mamori, or good luck charm when you go. It is also customary to visit a local shrine within three days of the New Year to say a prayer.

Now I live in Hawaii, where Christianity is the most common faith. However, the second most common is Buddhism, and there are plenty of Jews, Pagans, Shintoists, and Tenri-kyo too. It's a fun mix, and everyone seems easy-going about their neighbor's different faiths or lack thereof.

Which makes me wonder why some people try to force their beliefs on others or stigmatize another person's beliefs. Why is one faith "crazy" or "misguided" compared to another? Don't they all practice some form of meditation, chanting, constructing of altars, lighting of candles, belief of an afterlife in which your loved ones are still with you in some form and not just "dead"?

I know what I believe.

I believe in the concept of a balance of energies and spirits in nature and the four elements.
I believe in the concept of a soul, and in reincarnation.
I believe in meditations and incantations as ways to connect with your faith.

At the present, I do not belong to one religion, and I am fine with that. I don't need to put a label on my faith to feel comfortable with it, and I wish more people would be more open to other peoples' spirituality, it would make the world a better place.








SIDS and co-sleeping: simple numbers and facts to think about.

Fact: SIDS is also called "cot death" or "crib death" in the UK and the US.

Fact: In Japan and most other countries around the world, co-sleeping is still the norm.

For the year 2010:
The population of Japan was 128,057,352.  The number of SIDS deaths was 147.

The population of the US was 308,745,538.  The number of SIDS deaths was 2,063.

Japan SIDS research site

US SIDS research site.

This is a very informative article, I recommend it! 


RIP "Poppy" Max Kaplan

August 8th, 1921 - May 5th, 2005
Hopefully, when you reach your final destination, whatever that is, you'll remember me. And remember that I love you very much. and that I admire you, for how smart you were, and I will never, ever forget the Kaplan side of me. Thank you so much for everything, for giving me apples when I was little, for watching me while my parents worked, for giving me Hanukkah gelt every year, even if it wasn't much, thank you for always telling me stories, stories that I can take with me and tell to my future kids, and tell them "this is what I am. This is what I came from." 
And thank you for caring so much about my future. When I was a little kid you hardly knew, you started to give me a future. Because of your planning, I can go to college, pursue an education and a dream. You made it possible.
Thank you so much. I was selfish, and I couldn't be by your side when you needed me, and you forgot me in the end...but thank you.

This is something I wrote right after I got the phone call that he had passed. 

I was studying for finals, finishing my second year of college at UH, both my parents and my boyfriend respectively 3,000 miles away, me all alone. 
I got the phone call from my mom.  I thought I still had time, that he would hang on in hospice for just a couple more weeks until I got there. I burst into tears, and my parents hung up on me instead of staying with me so we could talk through our grief together. That night Yasushi stayed on the phone with me for several hours as I cried, talked through my happy memories with my Poppy, and feelings of grief, regret, and sadness at his disease and the time we couldn't have together, and what he lost. 
I couldn't go to the funeral, and when I got back, there was no mention of my grief or efforts to give me closure. However, although I still was not sure at that point, now that I have truly been able to explore and affirm my own spiritual beliefs, I do not need any of that. 

Enough about his death. 

My grandfather, Max Kaplan was born into a Russian Jewish family, and he was born at home because "that's how they did things back then", however there was a discrepancy on what date he was actually born, and a while after he had become an adult, he learned that his birthday was actually August 8th, and not August 9th like he had always been told. Being from a strict Jewish family, he spoke fluent Yiddish and was raised on a Kosher diet and celebrated all the Jewish holidays complete with all those prayers and stuff in Hebrew. He had a finesse for languages and became fluent in Spanish and also knew how to speak several other Romance languages competently, which came in handy when he travelled to Europe. He worked as an Investigator for the City of Philadelphia and was named the "Ace of Investigators" for all the funds he recovered for the city. He also loved Jazz and wrote the book on jazz collecting, literally. He was invited to join MENSA but declined because he didn't want to pay the membership dues. 
He loved collection. He would write celebrities and ask for their autographed pictures, and he has several albums full of them, not just for himself, but made out to his daughter and grandchildren. In his safe deposit box, he also had signatures of past Presidents and historical figures. He also loved to collect rare colored diamonds. His job with the City didn't pay a very high salary, but he always budgeted strictly to make sure he had money to invest in both monetary assets and his collections, with enough to take a budget trip to Europe every so often. When he cut corners to save money, it was mostly from his own personal budget first. He took any free sample or commodity he could and was a couponer decades before it was cool. He wore clothes and shoes until they had so many holes they could not be repaired any more. And he did not spoil his children, or even his grandchildren, with useless material things like fashionable clothes and accessories, video games or junky plastic toys. He gave them the bare minimum at birthdays and holidays, and the rest, he saved for them in bank accounts, and when his daughter got married for the second time and wanted to buy a house, he made the downpayment so his future granddaughter would have a home to live in.  He did the same later, when they moved to the suburbs, he paid the rest of their mortgage so they wouldn't have to worry about it. He always told his daughter that he didn't need his money, that he only saved it so his children and grandchildren could live a good life. 
Poppy also loved cats. He always had a cat in the house. He met his wife, my grandmother, via a pen-pal service. She was from Cuba and wanted to learn English. They married, she moved to America, and had my mother. Unfortunately the marriage ended and Poppy never remarried, although he did have a very kind-hearted lady-friend named Lucille who became like a grandmother to me. 
Poppy used to love to play checkers with me and my brother, and we would watch TV together and he always told stories peppered with Yiddish phrases. I wish I could remember more of them, but my mind is blocking out a lot of my memories from those years because of the negative associations. We went to visit him in his assisted-living home, but all I remember is my parents laughing at him when he repeated the same story over and over because of his disease and then ignoring him and talking over him for an hour and then leaving, their obligatory visit done. 
After his Alzheimer's progressed, he would say "they will find a cure for it...the day I die!", he talked and even retained his Spanish through the advanced stages of the disease. His brain was so strong. 
I was so lucky to know him for the short time I did, and I will do my best to live my life while remembering all the things he taught me. I already started a bank account for Chinami, and although the cost of living is high and our salaries are modest, I am saving up all I can to buy us a home someday. We won't have many material things, all of that is nothing with nothing anyway, but we will have a good life, like Poppy would have wanted, and we will ALWAYS go in good health, and come back in good health.