Monday, September 28, 2009

Tomodachi farewell

I'm just going to ignore the fact that I've published seven times for the entire month of September, and ask that you all do the same. Can we agree to that? Because I've had an intra-continental move, a sibling's wedding on the other coast, at least six different beds and many tough farewells in that time, and I think we should all start fresh. So.

Let's set the Wayback Machine to Wednesday, September 9th, which was to be our last dinner with our dear neighbors, Chikako and Toshio. Ever since we first met, they'd been telling us about an incredible tempura restaurant in Tokyo, Bill Clinton's favorite place. When they heard we were leaving, they oh-so-generously invited us to join them for dinner there. Um, OKAY!

So we met Chikako on the 4:16 train from Yokosuka-Chuo toward Tokyo, and landed in Ginza with an hour to spare before dinner. Chikako slipped away for a few minutes of luxury shopping while Josh and I took in the sights, and then we all explored the Sony showroom before walking to Ten-Ichi (link goes to English review site), Tokyo's premier tempura restaurant.The service was incredible. Women in kimonos led us to a waiting room and brought hot tea and towels while we waited for Toshio to join us. They took our jackets and umbrellas and made sure we were comfortable.
Once Toshio had arrived we sat at a table for eight, wrapped around a tempura station with the chef in the center and another party to our right. More tea, beer, and three salads were waiting for us there, along with a bowl of grated daikon and tempura sauce and a dish of salt and lemon for lightly flavoring the shellfish yet to come.
The salads were our first bites of dinner, and they were delicate and lovely. The first was Western-style greens and vegetables with a sesame ginger dressing. Next came mildly flavored pickled vegetables, and third was my favorite: sweet strips of jellyfish (I swear!) and more julienne veggies with some light, delicious dressing.

But then the real show began. The chef prepares one bite at a time, moving the diners slowly through a full meal of tempura. We had our neighbors to help us decipher what was what, but honestly, every bite I ate that night seemed more delicious than the last. Everything was incredibly delicious, even the first item, which I admit had me nervous at first glance.See why? I'm still not sure exactly what part of the prawn this represents - legs and belly? Some part of the head? Its dignity? - but I can say that there was no actual meat present. I wasn't about to insult our hosts so I popped the whole thing in my mouth with just a little salt and lemon, and oh, Internet. I wish I had the vocabulary to describe how delicious it was. It was kind of like the best popcorn you ever had, where you can still taste the oil but not feel it on your tongue, where the kernel is perfectly crispy without any chew at all. But add to that the taste of your favorite seafood, or really just the suggestion of it. That bite may have been my favorite of the evening.

But of course we were just getting started. Next came two different small pieces of fish, tail sections neatly butterflied and served with an inch of tail still attached and meant to be eaten like a garnish. The fish was perfectly tender and fresh, and the tails reminiscent of that first bite of prawn shell. Then came a shelled prawn, and then asparagus...
...and these, which were no bigger than sugar snap peas, but are actually tiny green peppers.
Bite after bite appeared on our paper-lined tempura plate, and sake arrived and was drunk, and conversation drifted between English and Japanese, and occasionally Josh and I would steal glances at one another to make sure this wasn't a dream. We ate tempura fried ginkgo nuts on toothpicks, and refilled our sauce bowls with daikon and sweet broth as the food kept coming.

Of course, it had to come to an end. The chef bowed deeply and more kimonoed ladies cleared our tempura plates and dishes, and brought miso soup and more pickles to cleanse our palates.
And then naturally they moved us to a different table for dessert: the most delicious fruit I've ever eaten, a mango that must have been grown by a little old man who has worked his whole life to produce the perfect fruit.
Josh and I were reeling after that meal, and we followed it up with coffee and a long train ride home with our dear friends.

We have led charmed lives, and have eaten our fill each and every day. We've been to California and New York, we've taken classes and taken advantage of friends' and family's formidable skill in the kitchen. But this meal was the best of either of our lives, and after a trying year in Japan, might just be one of the little voices from across the sea, calling us to someday return.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hoo, y'all

My big brother and his longtime girlfriend Glorie tied the knot this weekend and made me a brand new sister-in-law. Between the travel, coordinating wedding day, and a few fun family adventures, I'm all tuckered out again. But I'm so, so delighted for Benny and the new Mrs. Meixell - Melo is her middle name! - and I feel incredibly lucky to have been a witness.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Moving

We're here! Since arriving in Washington about 36 hours ago we've seen three friends, cooked two meals, slept 17 hours, and bought 2 iPhones and one slightly used Honda Civic. (Love that car!) In the couple days before we left Japan, we ate the best meal of our lives with our neighbors and said a lot of difficult goodbyes.

I have stories and photos from both sides of the ocean to share, but right now it's time for another long sleep. So in honor of the many stresses of moving, I present my favorite photo of myself in Japan, taken just two days before we left. I think this sums moving up nicely, don't you? Please click to enlarge.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Day at the beach

This weekend was the first time I've put my bathing suit on in Japan, and I did it twice! I'm so glad Nadine and I had arranged to hang out on Sunday, because when I called she'd been invited to the beach with Shiho (remember Shiho and family from Christmas?) and a few other friends. I picked up another friend - Dani - on base, and headed to Hayama. Josh stayed behind on this one, since he doesn't like the sun, or the beach, or picnics, or really people. He had a nice day working out and playing around on the computer.What a day. The five of us - that's Dani, Nadine, John, Justine, and I - piled into the van and drove to Morito Beach. After a long search for parking and a couple heroic moves by John behind the wheel, we arrived and walked onto that gorgeous beach. We shared a sand-seasoned lunch and conversation with a few other work people and some of Shiho's friends before losing our tee shirts and entertaining Juju on our towels. That's Justine, Nadine (with new baby cooking under that bathing suit! Eeee!), and Dani, enjoying the sun.
All five of us (including John) swam, too, or at least waded. Justine was almost scarily fearless in the water, laughing and plowing into the waves with abandon. I got about hip deep when I felt something sting my ankle - I don't know what it was, and it's not red anymore, but it freaked me out, so I didn't stay in the water too long.

Luckily, there was entertainment on the beach too! Band members Daryl and Jose came along, as did Daryl and Shiho's son David. He just keeps getting cuter! David, that is......although Daryl looks pretty funny in David's hat, too.
Those few hours at the beach were the perfect counterpoint to the stress of moving. Then today Josh joined me at the pool on base, where we splashed around with Nadine and family and went down the waterslide. We had hot dogs for Labor Day, too - my first American holiday hot dog since I was about ten years old. What fun!

It's starting to sink in that this is our last week in Japan. I've had my last weekend, my last Monday, my last night in our house and my final home-cooked meal. My first and last trip to the beach was bittersweet and lovely, and I was kind of glad to have felt a little sting.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I got 99 problems, but a house ain't one

We're out, people. After 355 days at ichi-no-nijuroku-no-jusan Maborikaigan, we're officially homeless and pitiful again. At the moment I'm watching Stand and Deliver in the hotel room, drinking a little Cabernet Sauvignon and loving my husband. Here's a little eye candy from the move - tales of days at the beach and Indonesian feasts are yet to come.




Yep, the movers brought a crane again to move the sofa.

The move went smoothly this time around. Everything that needed to go, went. The stuff that had to stay stayed, with the exception of our toothbrushes. Josh and I partook of the hospitality of our friends Kelsey and Mack for two nights, watching movies and playing with the puppy dogs while our house sat empty. We're lucky to be staying in a different place than last time - the Navy Lodge had some big downsides for us, if you recall, but the BOQ is great. We're near the gate, and best of all our room has a little divider between sleeping and living quarters - so no feud over bedtime.

Life is good. Time to go geek out over Calculus a little longer, and dream of six more days of sushi.

*Okay, so I blatantly stole the title from June Gardens, and also from Jay-Z. But I can't get it out of my head!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It's MOVING DAY!

And test day! Josh is out kicking ass and taking names on the E-6 exam, and I'm expecting the movers to be here any minute. Also drinking coffee out of a water bottle with a squirt-top - it's going to be a good day.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Moving

Things that are in my house right now:
All my stuff
All Josh's stuff
A bunch of stuff we aren't allowed to pack out
Mosquitoes
Me.

Things that aren't in my house right now:
Refrigerator
Stove
Microwave
Washer/Dryer
My sanity.

The packers/movers come for most of our stuff tomorrow, AND Josh takes his advancement exam. Wish us luck.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Stormy weather

It's like someone out there wants us to have every Japan experience possible before we leave. I mean, I haven't gotten married under a giant anime robot statue or anything, but we did get a tai-fun! videoI took this video yesterday morning, when the outer bands were starting to really hit us. The worst of Typhoon Krovanh reached our area midday Monday, battering our windows with rain, wind, and tiny debris.

The thing about Japan, though, is that the people of this big island have been getting used to earthquakes and typhoons for thousands of years. So every modern house not only has storm shutters, but big sturdy locking metal ones that easily slide out of their housing and over the windows and doors in seconds. The houses are built to exacting codes, especially on the water (as we are), and insurance coverage is comprehensive and reliable. If a more serious storm struck, I have no doubt our host nation would respond quickly and well to protect the people.

Fortunately, that wasn't the case with this storm. The closest it came to disaster was when Krovanh attacked our marriage, by way of Josh wanting to drive to base to work and run errands - during the worst of the wind and rain. I talked him out of it because I am a mean, mean woman and also possibly clinically paranoid (if you ask him) or because I don't believe in taking stupid unnecessary risks (if you ask me). We spent the day driving each other crazy, natch, playing Wii Fit and avoiding all the chores we need to do.

And oh, there are chores. Just today I've been to the vehicle office, the housing office, our insurance agency, the grocery store, and the post office. Tomorrow the nice men come take our fridge and stove, and the day after that ALL OUR STUFF WILL BE GONE OMG.

Come to think of it, the storm was kind of fitting. It's sunny and gorgeous today, but at our house, the wind is still blowing.