The Move to Japan

- Time off posting on this site - The last post on this site was on August 31, 2009 at which time I realized the only way to get us all to Japan was to stay off the computer and focus on the move. After 3 months of sorting and packing, I was able to fit everything I own into a very small storage area. Leaving for Japan - I always find it kind of funny but no matter how much time I give myself for packing, it usually seems I need to rush at the last minute. This trip was certainly no exception, um except with a few additional challenges. The day before leaving I threw out my hip and loosened a filling in one of my teeth while eating Japanese seaweed....go figure. This meant packing and staying up the whole night before leaving with a messed up leg and a nagging headache. Anyway, I was able to get through it.
The night before leaving - We were really happy Valerie came to see us off and she brought a very cute stuffed animal, a lion for her brother, which she purchased at the zoo. We got the chance to talk for awhile and worked out a few issues. Hopefully she will come and stay with us in Japan for a long time.
Heading to the airport - We were up the whole night doing last minute things before leaving for the airport. Ayumi spent the night since she was one of the drivers and Chris, long time friend who stays at our place, was the the other driver.
At the airport - We got to the airport at 5:15 am, which turned out to be plenty of time even though our flight was at 7:15 am. The women at United who checked us in were very nice and did not charge us for an extra bag and for one bag which was overweight. They did need to charge us $25 for one bag which was too much over the limit. We ended up with 5 carry-on bags.
San Diego to San Francisco - Everything went fairly smoothly with Shai only upset for a short time, mostly due to wanting to be held and walked around which we were unable to do once the plane began to taxi down the runway. The flight took about 1.5 hours and was pretty smooth. We got juice but no bag of peanuts or any type of snack. When did they discontinue doing this?
San Francisco to Tokyo - The 12 hour flight turned out to be pretty good considering all the challenges of traveling with a 4-month-old baby. We were able to reserve seats with more leg room in the front and a baby basinet which attached to the wall. We flew on All Nippon Airways for this leg of the trip. The service was excellent, no surprise as this is a Japanese company. The food was really good and they served a really nice Cabernet Sauvignon. The only yukky point was the movie selection, most of which were pretty old. Ended up watching Transporter 3 even though I already saw it. Aside from that, the flight went fairly quickly with Shai only screaming a few times, and only for the usual reasons, hungry, diaper, etc. Happily he adjusted to plane travel quickly.
Bag issues in Tokyo - We arrived in Tokyo where some of our family was waiting to meet us and to see the baby for the first time. An aunt and her daughter, the one we spent time with in SF showed up with lots of gifts for the baby. We needed to get all our bags for customs and immigration and then recheck them in for the last leg of the trip. We were flying on ANA again from Tokyo to Osaka and unlike United, they wanted to charge us for the extra bag. I decided to take one of the send though bags with us as a carry-on. We were sure they would say something and Akiko said to speak only English and they might let us through security with 6 bags. It worked perfectly and although it was a hassle we managed it. The Japanese workers kept running up to us to help with the extra bags as we got on and off the plane. The service in Japan continues to be the best in the world.
Entering Japan illegally - Many of our friends reading this know I was entering Japan illegally. Since I was entering the country on a tourist visa, I was supposed to show a round trip ticket with a departure date from Japan. Akiko had found information on the Japanese immigration site which said you can change your status once on Japanese soil. It took only 5 minutes and NO MONEY for me to be legal in Japan. They did not even ask for a marriage certificate or anything. It took months and over $3,000 for Akiko to change her status in the same way in the US....go figure.
Tokyo to Osaka - Really not much to talk about. The flight was about 1.5 hours, about the same as SD to SF, and was very smooth. We were all pretty exhausted by this time and slept most of the way.
Meeting the family - We arrived in Osaka at about 7:15 pm. Akiko and I met her parents at the airport after not seeing them for almost 3 years. Although we chatted online and kept in contact, the relationship with everyone was strained due to house and Buraku issues in Japan, which many of you already know about. Although people generally do not hug in Japan, we hugged her parents which instantly made all the issues go away, at least for the moment. Her mom cried when she saw the baby and her Dad was really happy. We needed to sent 4 of our bags from the airport to the house. Everything else was able to fit in the company car her Dad used to pick us up.

Arriving at the house - We arrived at the house and unloaded all our stuff. We ate oden, drank beer and talked. My Japanese is still pretty good considering the limited about of time spent speaking the language over the last 3 years. Her parents set up a really nice room for Shai. All things considered, the trip to Japan went very smoothly. We were only charged an extra $25 for our bags and I was able to enter the country and immediately change status with no problem. From now until the New Year, Akiko and I need to do many things to prepare for our next few years together with the baby in Japan.
- Relaxing and settling in - Our first full day in Japan was uneventful but definitely relaxing. We all slept really well, especially Shai who was sleeping much of the day. Akiko and I spent the day setting up the Internet on our computers, Akiko finished up some laundry and I spent a few hours cleaning the refrigerator and the bathroom sink. All of you who know me, know I like to work around the house. Except for hanging laundry out on the veranda and putting my bike outside, we stayed in today. The temperature was in the sixties today and the laundry dried quickly. People do not use dryers in Japan and need to take advantage of sunny days to dry the clothes. Her Mom went out on a job interview and was able to get the job which is at a Japanese temple and also a World Heritage site. We all ate dinner together which consisted of rice, gobo, cabbage and koroke which are basically fried potato balls with a small amount of beef. The picture is of us eating our first breakfast in Japan.
Deep sleep - It could be Japanese houses, maybe the incredibly comfortable blankets, or maybe most of my worries stay behind in the US but for some reason, sleeping in Japan for me is very deep. It seems to be the same for Shai too who slept an unbelievable amount of hours today. Akiko is able to sleep anytime, anywhere. The picture is of Shai crying until we gave him the orange to play with.

Going pee - Japanese houses are not centrally heated, at least not the older homes. Individual rooms are kept warm with electric space heating units while an oil stove is used in the kitchen which can also be used as a cooking stove. Since only rooms which are being used are warmed up, the bathroom is excluded since it is used only intermittently. If you need to pee at night, this means going downstairs into the freezing cold bathroom and doing your duty. Kinda sucks but a small price to pay for all the other benefits of being in this country.
- A bit more getting settled and some rain.
Room stuff - Pretty much spent much of today straightening out the bedroom in preparation for our at least month and a half in this house, assuming we purchase a home within the next week. The room is really comfortable and pretty much fit all of our stuff and us.
Room stuff - Pretty much spent much of today straightening out the bedroom in preparation for our at least month and a half in this house, assuming we purchase a home within the next week. The room is really comfortable and pretty much fit all of our stuff and us.
First rain - Today it rained most of the day which was wonderful after the long dry spell in San Diego. Rain in Japan is much like I was used to growing up in Kenmore, New York. Sometimes it rains really hard and finishes and sometimes it rains for days. This time of year it can be either. Today was pretty much a steady rain which is supposed to be over tomorrow.
No screaming - Shai has not screamed at all since arriving in Japan. He was completely good with all the family members. I really think babies are very perceptive and Shai can sense all the good feeling in the house at this time. He is sleeping really well, laughing, and seems to be enjoying himself.
- Japan got colder - After the rain, the temperatures were hovering around the upper thirties to low forties. Today was basically better but still cool and partly cloudy. This weekend will be rainy with over an inch expected. Caught a cold - Due to the cooler temperatures, and being really worn out from the trip, I caught a cold which seems to be getting worse. Bought a couple bottles of California wine at the grocery store today and plan on drinking away the cold.
Took a walk - Akiko and I went out with the baby after being in the house for a couple days getting settled. We went to the government office and finished up the paperwork for registering with the city and signing up for our benefits. Akiko thought Shai would be registered as Japanese but the government would not allow it since he entered Japan with a passport from the United States. This means both me and Shai are registered as foreign permanent residents. This picture is in front of the house where we are staying now.
A house - Today we finally were able to see the house we became interested in months ago. We looked at a couple of other houses in the same price range which were both pieces of crap. The house we were sent information about back in June 2009 turned out to be really nice. Yup, this property is a fixer but basically structurally sound. This property is located in the countryside but is only 1 mile away from the closest grocery store and only 1.4 miles away from the closest train station. There is a nice yard and parking and a wonderful view of the mountains from the second floor. We decided to go ahead with the purchase. You can click the following link to see more pictures of the house.
- Our New Pets and Our View.
New Pets? - Today it is raining again and everyone is home. Nothing much happening until tonight when we are all going to eat nabe and drink. With nothing much going on I decided to write about our new pets. The house we are buying is considered to be in the countryside, even though it is only a little over a mile from the train station. The house is pretty much surrounded by small farms. As such, there is a wide variety of little critters and insects....some of which are not little at all. The front yard of the house is loaded with these spiders. Nephila clavata, also known as the Jorō Spider (ジョロウグモ(女郎蜘蛛、上臈蜘蛛)is a member of the golden orb-web spider group. The spider can be found throughout Japan except Hokkaidō. The female's body size is 17-25 mm (3/4 - 1 inch in length), while the male's is 7-10 mm (1/4 - 1/2 inch in length). Including the legs, the female can reach up to 4 inches in total length. You can read more about these spiders on the following pages.
More information about the spider - wikipedia
More information about the spider - private site
Nice View - In addition to all the nice "pets", there is a really good view of the mountains from all the second floor rooms including the veranda where this picture was taken. Since two of the rooms are South facing, we will be able to see the sun rising and setting over the mountains. The North facing master bedroom has a nice view of the mountains too. The house should close, the Japanese equivalent of escrow, this month if the offer is accepted.
- Memories, House Offer, and Incredibly Small.
Memories - Today we met the real estate agent at Royal Host, a family chain restaurant in the Kansai area of Japan. Normally nothing special except this is the place where me and Akiko would sneak away to when we were dating about 6 years ago. After retiring, I went to Japan a few times to learn the language, we met in the local library, and the next time I went back we became a couple. I was staying with friends and the Royal Host was the only place we could really meet. It was also the place I met her parents for the first time and they told me to quit dating their daughter. Everything has come a long way since then. Marriage, a baby, and now possibly a house and a new business. It brought back a lot of memories being back there again. Kinda funny the way everything has come full circle.
House Offer - Yup, we put in a full price cash offer on the house I was drooling over for the last few months. Believe it or not, the full price offer was for $39,500. Pretty incredible for a 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom house with a family room, nice yard and parking. We are purchasing the house at less than half the actual value if this property were located in another area. This is all due to the condition of the property which is a cosmetic fixer and due to the Buraku or Caste System in Japan. The picture is of Abesan, our real estate agent.
Incredibly Small - After meeting the real estate agent we went shopping for food, diapers, and cough syrup for me. Akiko and I were in the United States for about two and a half years and obviously forgot many things. For example in Japan the service is incredible but you need to bag your own groceries. Go figure. In addition, these are the standard shopping, um baskets in Japan. They certainly cannot get much smaller.
- Back to Work.
Last night the family all ate sukiyaki together and drank beer. It was a really nice evening. Now almost a week in Japan and time to get back to business. Beginning today I really need to get back to updating the sites and planning the school, assuming we get the house. This blog will continue to updated for those of you who are interested in our Japan adventure.
- Transportation.
First train - We took Shai out for a walk today in order to take advantage of the sunny day. We took a walk on the streets behind the house to see if they connect to the road I need to use when riding the bike to the new house. The roads do connect but go over a few train tracks. During the walk Shai was able to see his first train.
Lots of bikes - Transportation in Japan is considerably different than in the United States. Many people do not own cars and instead ride bikes to the train stations, park their bikes for the day, and then ride the trains. This is one of the bike parking areas at the local train station. Thought this might be an interesting post for some of you.
- Picnic at the river.
Picnic - It was unseasonably warm again today and is supposed to be even warmer the next few days although it is supposed to rain. We took some time to relax for a picnic next to the river. We ate bentoo consisting of rice, salmon, chicken, and vegetables. We drank green tea and ate shuu cream for desert. Tomorrow I plan to take the mountain bike out for a ride to the new house. The bike is the equivalent of my 4Runner in Japan. I planned out a route to the house which follows the Yamato River.
Katsugegawa River - Today was spent shopping, going to the bank, and going out for a picnic at one of the many local rivers. This picture shows the walking trail which goes all the way along the river until you get to a bridge and then the trail continues on the other side. The total distance all the way around is probably about a mile but this could not be verified. The last couple days I went walking at night. The river is located about five minutes from where we are staying now.
- Walmart and Bike Ride to the House.
Walmart - I was last in Japan about three years ago. They were building a shopping center in the town of Oji where we are staying which was supposed to include a Walmart. Although the store we went to today is called Seiyu, it is basically Walmart with all the same brands the stores in the US carry. The prices are about the same too. Pretty cool to be able to pick up Japanese food at Walmart prices.
Bike ride to the house - I went on a practice run bike ride to the house today to see if the route I picked out would be any good. The roads to the house basically follow the local rivers and overall the ride was pretty nice. I printed out a map using Google and was able to find the house without getting too lost. Keep in mind the streets in Japan are unnamed except in cities like Tokyo and Osaka. The only way to find a place is to print out a map or to remember where to turn based on buildings and other landmarks. This picture was taken close to the house and shows a rice field. Notice the brown rows. This is rice which has already been picked and is being set out to dry.
Bike ride route on Google maps - 3.9 mi
- Rainy Day and Chanukah. Rainy Day - It was raining like crazy today. We stayed in and I was finally able to spend some time updating my sites. For those of you unfamiliar with my work, you can check out all the sites if you go to the My Projects section on the side bar at the top of this page. We received a call from our real estate agent. He wanted to meet us again at the royal host restaurant to go over the purchase agreement he wrote up based on our requests from. The meeting and explanation of the purchase agreement took about three hours. Pretty incredible for a basic cash transaction with almost no contingencies.
Chanukah - Today was the first night of Chanukah. Good luck finding a menorah or Chanukah candles in Japan. We went to the hundred yen store and I bought a soup dish which coincidentally had 9 holes, the same as a standard menorah. We bought candles which are used for religious purposes in Japan. A little tape and a bit of aluminum foil and voila, a make shift menorah.
- We Actually Got the House.
It took six months and a lot of effort but we finally got the house. We took the train to the office of the real estate agent for the seller. We met our agent outside the train station and then took the two minute walk to the office. Even for this house the meeting was very formal. Akiko and I sat at a table with our agent and someone who I thought was the listing agent. It turned out this guy has a special license for reading and explaining purchase agreements. He very formally introduced himself, bowed and placed his license card on the table on top of his card holder. The meeting began at 6:00 pm with this guy reading through the majority of the agreement. The owner of the property arrived at about 6:20 and eventually joined us at the table at 6:30 pm. The meeting became even more formal at that point with plenty of bowing and formal conversation in Japanese. Now the actual listing agent came out and replaced the purchase agreement reading guy. The listing agent read through many papers, also out loud, and then everyone began signing (and using their hankos - family ink stamp) the purchase agreement. Once everything was signed, the meeting became a little more relaxed with everyone making small talk. The owner, who is an older Japanese man, seemed happy we were getting the house. The meeting actaully ended at about 7:45 pm. After the meeting our agent took us home. Me and Akiko went to the grocery store and bought wine, cheese, and dessert to celebrate getting the house. We are scheduled to do a walk through inspection of the house on 12/22/09 and then the house should go through on 1/14/10. Much more about the house and the purchase agreement in upcoming posts.
- Getting Colder.
Temperature change - It seems Japanese baby formula has a strange affect on the hands of babies. After a week of drinking the Meiji brand of formula, the hands of our cute little Shai almost doubled in size. Kidding. Actually we took a walk around the river today. It was noticeably cooler and we forgot to bring mittens for Shai. The forecast is calling for snow this weekend with temperatures dipping to 32 degrees or lower. Hey Dorothy, we are not in San Diego anymore.
- Meeting a Friend and Eating Sushi.
Meeting a friend - Today my long time friend and former Japanese teacher Nobumitsusan took me and Akiko out for lunch. I met Nobumitsusan about six years ago when I stayed in Japan for three months during the Summer with the family of a friend in San Diego. This was the same Summer I met Akiko. During the stay I was told of a free school where I could learn Japanese. Nobumitsusan was one of the volunteer teachers. When I returned to San Diego we continued to keep and contact over the years and met every time I returned to Japan. It was very nice to see him again.
Eating Sushi - Nobumitsusan took me and Akiko to a kuru kuru sushi restaurant which is the name I use for it.

Conveyor belt sushi (回転寿司, kaiten-zushi) (also called sushi-go-round (くるくる寿司, kuru kuru sushi), mainly by foreigners living in Japan or "yasu-zushi"), is the popular English translation for Japanese fast-food sushi. In Australia, it is also known as sushi train (as the sushi goes around a track on a train, rather than a conveyor belt).
Kaiten-zushi is a sushi restaurant where the plates with the sushi are placed on a rotating conveyor belt that winds through the restaurant and moves past every table and counter seat. Customers may place special orders, but most simply pick their selections from a steady stream of fresh sushi moving along the conveyor belt. The final bill is based on the number and type of plates of the consumed sushi. Some restaurants use a fancier presentation such as miniature wooden "sushi boats" traveling small canals or miniature locomotive cars.
The most remarkable feature of conveyor belt sushi is the stream of plates winding through the restaurant.

If customers cannot find their desired sushi, they can make special orders.

The bill is calculated by counting the number and type of plates of the consumed sushi. Plates with different colors, patterns, or shapes have different prices, usually ranging from 100 yen to 500 yen. The cost of the different plates is shown on signboards or posters in the restaurant. In general, cheap items come on plain plates, and the level of plate decoration is related to the price. The most expensive items tend to come on gold colored plates.
- Train, Friend, Nara Park, Temples, Train.
The first train ride for Shai - Today was a pretty busy and fun day for us. Shai got to ride on his first train from Oji, the town where we are staying, to Nara, a very historic city in Japan. After arriving at Nara station, we walked to Nara park and ate the lunch we bought at Seiyu (Walmart) while still in Oji. Shai got to see his first deer which run wild in the park.
Meeting another friend - Today me, Akiko, and Shai went to visit my friend Nakatasan. A few years ago Nobumitsusan, the friend who took us out for sushi (December 14, 2009 post below), knew someone who wanted to learn English in order to open a bed and breakfast in Nara. Nobumitsusan introduced me through email to Nakatasan and I stayed with him and his family for awhile and taught him English. We became good friends and he ended up opening his bed and breakfast hotel five minutes walk from Nara park.
Nara Park - After visiting our friend, we headed back to Nara Park this time to see a couple of famous temples located in the park. We saw lots more deer and plenty of people even though this was a weekday. Within the park, many yatai were set up. A yatai (屋台?) is a small, mobile food stall in Japan typically selling ramen or other hot food. The name literally means "shop stand." Many of them were selling hot sweet potatoes and senbei which is a snack you can feed to the deer. Nara Park (奈良公園, Nara Kōen) is a public park located in the city of Nara, Japan, at the foot of Mount Wakakusa, established in 1880. The over 1,200 wild sika deer (シカ or 鹿 shika) freely roaming around in the park are classified as a "Natural Monument." The park is also home to the Nara National Museum and Todai-ji, where the largest wooden building in the world houses a 50' tall statue of Buddha.
Kōfuku-ji Temple - We visited the two most famous temples in the park. The first temple is called Kōfuku-ji. Kōfuku-ji (興福寺, Kōfuku-ji) is a Buddhist temple in the city of Nara, in Nara prefecture, Japan. Kōfuku-ji, along with several Buddhist temples, and other sites in Nara, received the distinction of being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the name: "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara." The picture is of the five story pagoda.
Tōdai-ji Temple - Tōdai-ji (東大寺, Tōdai-ji, Eastern Great Temple), is a Buddhist temple complex located in the city of Nara, Japan. Its Great Buddha Hall (大仏殿 Daibutsuden), the largest wooden building in the world, houses the world's largest statue of the Buddha Vairocana, known in Japanese simply as Daibutsu (大仏). The temple is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site as "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara", together with seven other sites including temples, shrines and places in the city of Nara. Sika deer, regarded as messengers of the gods in the Shinto religion, roam the grounds freely. You can see the temple in the back of the picture.
Back on the train - After leaving the park we got back on the train and went back to Oji. Shai really seemed to like the train. Lots of new sounds and things to look at.

Possible Snow - The forecast is calling for snow every night this week beginning on Wednesday. The amount, if it snows, will not even be close to Buffalo norms. Most likely a dusting which will quickly melt.
- Pretty Normal Day. I went running in the morning and then went out with Akiko and the baby in the afternoon. It was time for his first check up in Japan. They said he is doing really good. Then we went to the bank and then came home.
- Cold and Windy.
Today was really cold and windy. We went to the post office and then shopping at Seiyu again. I went and completed the daily run around the river and finished the 8 kilometers in 52 minutes. Not quite a speed record but good enough considering the temperature was in the mid forties and the winds were about 25 miles per hour sustained with gusts over 40 miles per hour. This was the first time for Shai to visit the post office in Japan.
- Last Day of Chanukah, Colder and Windier.
Last day of Chanukah - Today was the last day of Chanukah and Shai received a few more presents from us bringing the total up to eight presents. He received mostly small toys and a few necessities such as mittens. In this picture he is checking out his new training cup.
Colder and windier - Today was even colder and windier. The high was in the low forties and should dip into the low thirties tonight. Me, Akiko, and Shai went out for a long walk and shopping. I needed to purchase a hanko (ink name stamp) to be used for purchasing the house and any other official business in Japan. Today Shai laughed for the first time as a result of something he saw on the television. Soon after, he fell asleep while watching.
- A Really Quiet Weekend. I went out for my 8 kilometer run and then came back and took a shower. Another cold and windy day. We plan to pretty much stay in for the weekend and eat nabe and drink wine. We found a really good imported wine at Seiyu for about $3.70 a bottle.
- Snow and Shopping
I went out for my 8 kilometer run as usual but today was a little different. It actually snowed. Actually it was only flurries which pretty much melted on contact. We needed to go shopping in the afternoon and this was the first time to put Shai in the baby backpack. I turned him around in order for him to see everything and then stuffed him and everything into my coat. We got looks from pretty much everyone as we walked through the train station and the grocery store.
- Holidays in Japan. I received quite a few emails from friends back in the states asking about the holidays this month in Japan. In answer to all your questions, the holidays are celebrated in Japan put pretty much a joke. The stores play Christmas music and decorate the aisles and some people decorate their homes. The holidays are for fun and totally commercialized with no religious meaning for the people. In fact, on the 26th the day after, all the decorations come down in favor of New Years decorations. New Years is the most important holiday for Japanese.
- Nabe Party.
Today a couple of friends came over who Akiko knew all the way back to elementary school. We ate nabe which is really the best meal to serve for an intimate kind of dinner. Both girls went out with me and Akiko to a restaurant in Japan a few years ago. From left to right:
Me, Taeko, Okaachan, Shai, Chika, Akiko.
- Toast Your Hot Sand.
As if hot sand is not hot enough. Now YOU can toast YOUR hot sand in YOUR very own HOT SAND TOASTER. All this for only 970 yen, the equivalent of about 10 bucks. Confused???? Japanese people call sandwiches, sando or sand. For example, a chicken sandwich might be called a chicken sand. Anyway this caught my attention and thought yall might like this.
- Mochi Party.
Today we walked about 20 minutes to visit cousins for a mochi making party. The actual term is Mochitsuki. They used a machine to make the mochi as opposed to the more traditional way but it was still really good. The family remodeled the house a few years ago resulting in a really nice place. The family is really nice. It was a very enjoyable afternoon.
Click to learn more about Mochitsuki
- Japanese New Year.
Today we went shopping and for a walk along the river. We made it to New Years Eve after a month of difficulties in Japan. Although there were many happy moments, the month was filled with tension among family members. As a new year is about to begin, I continue to be hopeful for good changes and a year filled with happiness. In a few hours our traditional New Years celebration will begin. Akiko is making Osechi-ryōri. Osechi-ryōri (御節料理 or お節料理) are traditional Japanese New Year foods. The tradition started in the Heian Period (794-1185). The next few days will basically consist of eating different foods, hanging around doing pretty much nothing and consuming large amounts of alcohol. The Japanese celebrate New Year's Day on January 1 each year on the Gregorian Calendar. Before 1873, the date of the Japanese New Year (正月, shōgatsu) was based on the Chinese lunar calendar and celebrated at the beginning of spring, just as the contemporary Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese New Years are celebrated to this day. However, in 1873, five years after the Meiji Restoration, Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar, so the first day of January is the official New Year's Day in modern Japan. It is considered by most Japanese to be one of the most important annual festivals and has been celebrated for centuries with its own unique customs.
Click to learn more about the Japanese New Year
Click to learn more about Japanese New Years food