Monday, July 25, 2005


Ohayo gozaimus, everyone! At the beginning of our second week in Japan, things are going pretty well. We have a green minivan, the name of which I haven't yet learned how to pronounce. :) It looks generally similar to the ones we're familiar with in the States, but a lot more angular --- sort of like a shoe box on wheels. The nose is really flat, too. I think that's because there's a lot more of the car inside the car than we're used to; a lot of the front seat area is taken up by a carpeted mountain that I suspect of being integral to the drive train. Apparently, Japanese people aren't too concerned about seat belt use in the back seat. None of the cars I've been in so far here have a full set of functioning seat belts. It was a sweaty, frustrating half hour the first time we put the car seats in the van, trying to locate all of the seat belt components and match them to one another. After we bought it, we discovered that the radio quits working once you turn the steering wheel. However, the a/c works, which is several orders of magnitude more important! What the hey --- the used cars being swapped back and forth among arriving and departing American families here are generally pretty cheap (we wrote a check for this one), so as long as the important stuff works, we can always buy a car stereo later. The streets are pretty narrow off base, and of course you drive on the left side of the road (and the driver's side of the car is on the right --- you can tell new arrivals by looking for the people sitting the the passenger seat with keys in hand and a look of bewilderment), so it's a challenge to maneuver the big green machine. I haven't driven this paragon of family transportation yet. I take my driver's license test tomorrow. What an adventure: trying to learn how to drive by memorizing the shapes and colors of the street signs because you can't read the words. (!)

In addition to a car, we've also found a place to live (although we won't be able to move in for perhaps another week --- what's a government job without red tape?). Ed and I looked at 8 or 10 places, separately and together, before settling on one. Actually, Ed demonstrated once again his ability to keep his family happy in difficult circumstances by telling me that whichever place made me happy would be fine. :) The place I liked is an apartment; I'd thought I'd rather have a house, but this was a lot better than the houses we saw. Houses in Japan don't usually have what we'd think of as a yard (because of the very limited living space), so no matter what, we'd end up having to take Chance for walks instead of letting him out into a yard. This apartment is on the second floor, across the street from a small oceanfront park (a double bonus --- walking space for Chance and swings and a slide for the kids) and a walking path along the seawall. From the apartment, we'll have a view of the ocean (and a balcony to admire it from, too, when it gets cooler). One of the advantages of being so close to the water is the sea breeze. It's not that it's so horribly hot here --- Saudi was much hotter, and even Kansas City probably has warmer temperatures right now --- but the humidity is really high. Having a place that we can open up to a good breeze after the hottest part of the day will really help us manage the utility bills, which can be very high. We'll have four bedrooms (VERY difficult to find, here) and two baths, and a walk-in closet in the master bedroom (too late! I already put most of my clothes in storage). All of the windows are bay windows with dark-stained wooden window seats that match the molding. The floors are a pink-beige stone, and the walls are covered in grass-textured wallpaper with a white-on-white bamboo design. The kitchen has dark blue counters and cabinets, and the upper cabinets that separate the kitchen from the living room area have glass doors, so the light passes through. The building's only two years old, so everything is new and in very good condition. It's so full of light --- we were very lucky to get a unit facing the ocean, because buildings here are very close together and the windows on the side of the building face another building only a few feet away. Of course, all of this loveliness is reflected in the rent. Thankfully, we're getting a housing allowance to help --- the rent is twice as much as the mortgage for our house was (yikes!). But I've had many years of experience making every penny squeak as it leaves my hand, and I intend to apply this expertise to the yen.

I've been practicing my limited Japanese on the hotel staff and anyone else who will stand still long enough. So far, I've found the stereotype to be true: the Japanese people I've encountered so far have been very friendly and very polite. For example, after the gruelling transcontinental flight, we landed in Osaka very tired and disoriented, with our hands full of children. And, of course, we had to trek across the airport, collect our half-ton of luggage, and go through immigration and then customs. But even the immigration and customs agents, although obviously exhausted, were polite and efficient (imagine!). And as soon as we got into Osaka airport proper, we were showered with help from the airline staff. They located a forgotten bag, insisted we take a loaner stroller, sought out all of the families with children in the waiting area and got us on the airplane first, took the bags and car seat out of our hands --- it was amazing. And very welcome: Ed and I were past exhaustion, since the children did sleep on the never-ending trip, but never all three at the same time. :) OK, granted, these are people whose job is customer service, but it's still fairly representative of the way we've been treated here. I flatter myself that it helps that we're interested in the culture and have tried to learn how to say at least the essentials of politeness. The base offers Japanese language classes, although I may have to wait until Sebastian and Atanasia go back to school to start (we'll see), so I'll be able to expand on my five phrases!

We're doing fine, although already Ed's working his usual (e.g., very long) hours and the kids and I are pretty tired of being cooped up in hotel rooms. But we went to brunch at the club yesterday (all the bacon the kids could eat!) and then to the pool. Atanasia loved the water slide --- I finally had to make her stop when I realized that she was so tired she could barely climb the steps to the top, and she was still trying to talk me into one more slide as we left. Sebastian is getting more and more confident in the water, and surprisingly the baby who can't be bathed loves the pool! We're going to have to get her her own vest, because she wriggles for us to let her go, and entertains herself by putting her face into the water just like the big kids. You know, we've always said she's a grown-up trapped in a baby's body. ;) So we're well on our way to settling in, although we won't really be at home until we're all back together again. Walking through the pet food aisle of the Commissary almost brought me to tears. The ladies are going to LOVE those window seats, and there's a beach within evening-walk's distance for Ed and Chance, and an elevator in the building for the days when he doesn't feel like tackling the stairs. I'll send pictures of the house (apartment), car, and Okinawa-tanned children as soon as we a) get a computer (can't use the lodging computer for pix), and b) find the camera-to-computer cable that I'm almost positive I put with the stuff to be packed. Hope everyone's well and happy. More later.

Love, Torah