Life with Baby · Travel · Uncategorized

Excuse the mess!

The final countdown is on: less than two weeks until we pack up our (many) bags and haul ourselves to another country! We’ve made the move back and forth from Michigan and Japan several times, but this will be the first time making the journey with a sweet baby in tow (who also happens to get pretty fussy whenever she’s away from home!). I’m a little nervous about a lot of different things, but I just keep telling myself we can make it through anything if we’re all together! Let the packing begin! Messy, messy…!

In the meantime, we’ve been trying our best to get ready for the move in between making sure our little sweet pea’s needs are met. This may be the last time living in Japan for us (at least for a while), so we’re been doing our best to get a fill of some of the things we’ll miss the most! My top three? Friends, food and pastries! (Specifically yakiniku, ramen & rice balls for food, and amazing cakes & cream puffs from our favorite bakery for pastries!).

Wait, can I add a couple more? I’ll also really miss cute Japanese gardens and cherry blossom season! And barley tea! And…well, I guess I’ll miss a lot…!

What would you miss the most about where you’re living if you had to pick up and move? Wish us luck–things are getting a little messy around here!! 😉

xx Caitlyn

Around Town

Around Town: Fukuro no Ouchi (Owl House)

As you may have seen on Instagram over the weekend, I had the pleasure of going with a friend for coffee and cake at an owl cafe! I first came across Fukuro no Ouchi (pronounced oh-oo–chi, not ouchy!) when Chad and I were bumbling around Sugamo waiting for our time slot at Tsuta Ramen, and I had been wanting to go ever since!
                           There is a little bell outside you can ring before going in. When you are seated in the cafe, a waitress comes up to explain how the cafe works. The cafe charges 1500 yen for one hour, and that includes time with the owls and a drink. You are given a number, and when your number is called you can go in the owl room to touch and hold the owls for about ten minutes. While you wait, you can enjoy a beverage and (for an extra 500 yen) a cute cake. You are also encouraged to peruse the gift shop.
Our call number and some of the cakes available. Also some really informative English 😉

The owl room!

This was my favorite owl. Her name is Milky, and she shares my birthday month of November!


Aren’t they marvelous? I love the one in the top middle–it reminds me of a teddy bear!

The owl in the middle right pictured above was smaller than my hand!



                       It felt so amazing to hold such beautiful creatures!

Fukuro no Ouchi is about a ten minute walk from Sugamo station, and is open from 1-8 on weekdays (closed Wednesdays) and 12-8 on weekends. For more information, you can visit the Fukuro no Ouchi website (Japanese only). I really enjoyed the cafe, and definitely recommend a visit if you’re in Tokyo!

xx Caitlyn

Pregnancy

A tale of two hospitals: part two

I can’t believe our baby girl is already just over 5 weeks old! Time has been flying, and we’re starting to really get into the swing of newborn parenting. One thing’s for sure: we definitely would have had a much rougher start if Chad’s mom hadn’t come out to visit for a couple of weeks. She was especially a life saver when Lillian and I had our one month checkup. Without a car or a stroller or anyone else to help (Chad had to work) I don’t know how I would’ve survived without her! Chad’s mom held Lillian, lugged her diaper bag around, and was super supportive.

Now that the one month check is finished, we are officially done with going to Aiiku Hospital and will be switching to a Pediatric Clinic. Before the Aiiku chapter in our lives is closed, however, it’s time for part two of my experience with the hospital just before and after Lillian’s birth.

Above you can see photos of the shared rooms at Aiiku Hospital. The private rooms were a little bigger, but much more expensive and (in my opinion) not really worth the extra cost.

Once we switched to Aiiku Hospital, I wanted a maternity ward tour as soon as possible. At St Luke’s International Hospital, they schedule a private tour for you with an interpreter and a midwife. At Aiiku, however, there are group tours scheduled twice a month, and if you can’t attend them, well, you’re out of luck. I’ve since learned that there is an English tour available, but no one told me that at the time, so I was left to do my best with my limited Japanese. This was a little stressful, but not nearly as stressful as trying to make phone calls to the hospital in English.

I had three really rough experiences with calling the hospital. First, a few days before I went into labor, Lillian was putting pressure on some nerves that gave me such horrible leg cramps I couldn’t walk. I was in a lot of pain, and I read online that some women experience contractions through their legs. After several hours, I decided it would be best to call the hospital, but when I called and asked for someone who spoke English, the person speaking just said she would “try her best.”

After about ten minutes of trying to explain my concern without any comprehension on the other end of the line, I started to get really upset and negative (I asked myself why I had to be giving birth in Japan, was getting really frustrated with my Japanese skills, and had started to get scared because I had no idea what I was experiencing as a soon-to-be mommy). With a shaky voice I finally said, “I know you’re trying your best to understand me, but are you sure there is no one else who might be able to speak more English that I could talk to?” And seconds after a “chotto matte” (just a moment), a fluent English speaker hopped on the line. Why she wasn’t put on immediately is beyond me, but it would have really saved me a lot of stress!

The next day I had to call again to make sure of my appointment time for the day after that. Once again I was greeted with mediocre English, and was told that I didn’t seem to have an appointment anymore. I asked if they could please make one as I was already 40 weeks pregnant. The woman said yes, and that I could see the same doctor I saw last time but that he couldn’t speak English. I responded, “Um, I saw a female doctor last time, and she could speak English.” I was then put on hold before she came back on the line and said, “Okay, you can see the doctor you saw last time who can speak English. Is 11:30 okay?” I said yes and then asked if I should come at 10:30 for the NST that Aiiku requires for all pregnancies after 37 weeks.

She said, “Why do you need an NST? You are 14 weeks pregnant, right?”

“No! I’m FORTY WEEKS. Do you know which patient I am?” I was starting to get pretty frustrated, not to mention surprised and concerned. I had already given my ID number, name, birthday etc., so how were all of these issues arising? She said she knew who I was and that she was sorry because it was her first day (not particularly encouraging…). Then I was told to come early for the NST.

The last difficult phone call was when I was in labor. Long story short, there wasn’t anyone around who spoke even basic English when I called to report my contractions (the woman on the phone didn’t even seem to understand the word “contraction!”), and I ended up having Chad take over because it was too hard to talk anyway. One thing that would have been tremendously helpful to know about is the Himawari Translation Service free for medical interpretation. I think using Himawari could have saved me a lot of headaches (though I still would have been concerned about the mix-ups when I called to confirm that appointment!).

After your baby is born, you stroll them around in little mobile cots when going from your room to the nursery, etc.. Mine was labeled “Dykehouse Caitlyn baby.”

Having difficulty communicating was probably one of the hardest parts of pregnancy in Japan, but in the end we got our beautiful girl so it’s been easy to let go a bit with time. After Lillian was born we were able to spend time recovering in the LDR, and I was brought lunch. I heard some hospitals bring a meal for the husband, too, but Chad was left to run up to the hospital restaurant, which was closed for some reason. Sadly, all he could really scrape together was a granola bar and some canned coffee.

Our sweet girl at the hospital in one of the super cute robes they provide during your stay. She has already changed so much!

My meals at Aiiku were overall really tasty, and were always healthy and balanced. Unless you choose the most expensive private room option (I believe it’s about the equivalent of $700 per day), even your spouse has to adhere to the 1:00-8:00 visiting hours, so I usually was only able to eat with Chad at dinner time. The visiting hours were one of the toughest parts of being at the hospital after Lillian was born.

Spaghetti dinner with tea, soup, yogurt, kiwi, salad and a sweet/savory cheese bread.

The other tough parts of my hospital stay were mostly related to being a new mommy than to anything to do with the hospital, though I did have a couple encounters that were unique to foreigners, I think. For example, when breastfeeding, Lillian liked one side better than the other, so I asked if I could pump on one side and dump the milk out (I didn’t want her to be bottle fed before the first month). The midwife looked at me like I was foolish and said, “In Japan we don’t care how the babies get the milk as long as they get their food, but foreigners just want to breastfeed.” Of course ultimately that’s what foreigners want, too, but many mommies value exclusive breastfeeding and don’t want to interfere with that in the first month. I just did what I thought was right, and ignored her comment.

Chicken, tomato, okra and mushroom dinner plate with tea, rolls, crackers, salad and apple slices.

Overall the nurses/midwives were helpful, but they weren’t always friendly. Sometimes I wondered if their lack of warmth was from the language barrier, or perhaps because they were just tired like me. (Or…perhaps I was just tired and I was imagining their coolness.) I did think it was strange that staff at Aiiku frequently insisted on having tests I didn’t feel were necessary, like doing NST’s before I was overdue even though everything in my pregnancy was fine, doing all my blood tests again (even though they had gotten the results for the exact same tests a week prior from St. Luke’s), and telling me I should get checked for diabetes a month after birth because Lillian was bigger than Japanese babies tend to be (even though my entire pregnancy I was completely normal–at a healthy weight with healthy blood pressure, urine samples, etc.).

Breakfast of yogurt, tea, warm bread slices, salad, milk and orange slices.

One nice thing about Aiiku is that the hospital is very up-front about pricing, unlike St. Luke’s where no pricing information was given to me in English. At Aiiku, you are given thorough information in English that breaks down the cost of giving birth and the fees for hospital stay. The strange thing is that since pregnancy isn’t covered by insurance in Japan, the fee for giving birth actually decreases if you have any emergency procedures like an episiotomy or a C-section (because those are covered by insurance). So a completely natural birth is cheaper than one that requires more medical attention!


This was one of my favorites: a lunch of potato soup, tea, pizza toasts, mixed nuts, a savory/sweet cheese waffle, yogurt, milk, salad and pineapple. Since we never ended up getting an oven this time around in Japan, we’ve taken to making these pizza toasts in our broiler 🙂

In the end I am glad we were able to transfer to Aiiku. Language barriers happen all over the place in Japan, even in Tokyo, so we’re still dealing with that, but on the bright side now that I’ve gone through pregnancy in Japan I know I can really handle a lot. Often in life you’re tougher than you think, and in my case I ended up with the best gift I could ever ask for: our darling daughter.

I hope this has been helpful to anyone searching for information on giving birth in Japan, or at least of interest to anyone in general! To those of you who commented on Facebook, etc., that you were waiting for the second half of this hospital tale, thank you for your patience! I would love to hear what you thought, or about your experiences with cultural differences, pregnancy, and so on in the comments!

xxCaitlyn

 

Autumn Bucket List

Autumn Bucket List recap

It seems like the end of December is a little late to be talking about an Autumn Bucket List, but when you think about it, winter technically just started a little over a week ago. If you add the fact that weather in Tokyo still feels like fall, updating you on fall happenings really shouldn’t be that strange at all! So, without further adieu, let’s talk about my 2015 Autumn Bucket List! #noregrets 😉

  1. Try kirigami– Kirigami, the art of folding and cutting, can really make some neat projects. I was a lot busier than I expected over the past few months, but I did manage to do this quick kirigami pattern out of a 100 yen store kirigami book.
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  2. Go to Studio Ghibli- Once again, we were unable to get tickets for Ghibli in the fall. On the bright side, we were able to get tickets for winter, and we ended up going on Christmas Day! We were a little surprised that after all the hype and difficulty getting tickets the museum wasn’t bigger. We also couldn’t believe there is no English at all throughout the museum (and even the English brochure didn’t offer any information other than rules), but we still had a nice time. I really enjoyed the Christmas decorations at the museum, and also walking in the surrounding area (Kichijoji).
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  3. Start sewing projects for baby– I started working on this cute sewing kit purchased from etsy.
    hedgehog cross stitchI used to lack the patience for sewing, but I feel like as long as there is an interesting podcast or video going in the background, I really enjoy sewing. I definitely have a renewed appreciation for all the beautiful sewing work my mother has created–especially after realizing it can take hours to complete only 10 rows or so of stitching!
  4. Go on a picnic– Chad and I had a picnic with our students, and also had “mini” picnics a couple of times (like when we shared those nice pastries at the Rikugien Gardens).
  5. Go on a mini trip & view autumn leaves– in October we went to Kyoto and rode the Sagano Romantic Train. We also went on the Hozugawa River Boat Ride before biking a bit around Arashiyama.The leaves weren’t changing too much yet, but we were able to do lots of autumn leaf viewing after that trip.
    IMG_3360                                 We met an oni on the Sugamo Romantic Train…!
    IMG_3346               One of over 1200 statues at Otagi Nenbutsuji in Arashiyama
  6. Make a birdy mobile– I totally didn’t get a chance to make this, but here is what I had in mind:
    birdy mobile via pinterest
  7. Go to Mt. Takao– I was super proud that at 29 weeks I was able to hike all the way to the top of Mt. Takao!
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  8. Make Halloween Needle Felts– I made two, and blogged about the projects here.
  9. Holiday/Maternity Leave Planning– I definitely worked on this part of my list throughout the fall, especially in December! With the holidays I did all of the expected: had fun finding special gifts, wrapping presents, preparing yummy food… And for maternity leave, I’ve been trying to do yoga and/or squats every day, to go for a daily walk, and to do part or all of one task I’ve got listed on my To-Do List (for example, washing new baby clothes or organizing a closet to prepare things for sending home). Busy, busy!
  10. Get necessary items ready for baby– We still have a few things to get ready for baby’s arrival, but we have been very lucky to have friends and family helping out with a lot of the basic necessities. We have been super minimal about purchases and requests as 1) we’ve heard that new parents often have WAY more than they need, 2) if we do need something we don’t have, we can always pick up those essentials as we go, and 3) we aren’t planning on staying in Japan for very long after baby is born so we don’t want to accumulate too much.
    IMG_4072Thirty five and a half weeks pregnant at The Tokyo New National Theater to see The Nutcracker

I thought about making my first ever winter bucket list for this year, but aside from going to The Nutcracker ballet (which we did a couple days before Christmas, by the way!), my primary goal for this winter is to meet our little girl and settle into being a mommy! I think that will be more than enough to keep me busy.

What are some things you did over the fall, and what have you got planned for the winter?

xx Caitlyn

Travel

Happy Tokyo Anniversary

It’s hard to believe that a year ago today we arrived in Tokyo after a rather tiring journey from Michigan. Tokyo is the third place we’ve lived in Japan, preceded by living first in Yokkaichi (Mie prefecture) and then by living in Kobe a couple of years later. We didn’t really know what to expect from Tokyo–after all, it seemed impossible any location could live up to the love we had (and have!) for Kobe. As we promised our company we’d open a new campus for our school in Tokyo and stay planted there until March of 2016, we knew we would have to make the most of the big city no matter how it compared to Kobe…and so our year in Tokyo began.
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The Tokyo Sky Tree

Over the past year we’ve gone places like Tsukiji Fish Market and Studio Ghibli. We’ve been to several gardens, bakeries and cafes, and took our third trip to Thailand (which you can never visit too often, if you ask me!). We tried two Michelin Star-rated restaurants (one French and the other Japanese), and got to try Bear Pond Espresso (made famous by A Film About Coffee). We celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary, my 30th birthday, and the exciting news that we’re going to be having a baby soon!

rilakkuma 2016
Rilakkuma plushes dressed up like monkeys for the New Year.

Of course, we’ve had challenges while living in Tokyo, too, but overall we feel lucky to have had such an interesting, eventful year (after all, the paragraph above barely touches on everything we’ve been up to!). With a baby due soon, I have a feeling this year will be equally–if not more!–eventful, and I’m super excited about it! I’ll be posting soon to finally give a recap of this year’s fall bucket list and to tell you a little about our Christmas in Tokyo. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about some of your highlights from 2015!

xx Caitlyn

 

Around Town

Around Town: Rikugien Gardens and Sugamo’s Jizo-dori

When we got our placeholder tickets for Tsuta Ramen earlier this week, we had several hours to wait before our dining time. By chance, we found a couple really nice ways to spend our day before ramen time that I thought I’d share with you today.

First, we walked toward Komagome Station to check out Rikugien Gardens. We didn’t know anything about the gardens, but we figured it was a sunny day and we had time to pass so we might as well give them a shot. Before we got to the gardens, we stopped at Niki Bakery, which is very near to Komagome station.
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Niki Bakery and Cafe is quite a nice little stop, whether you’re interested in a couple pastries or something for lunch. Pictured above you can see some cream-filled Totoro bread, chocolate-filled Doraemon bread, and sweet red bean paste-filled Anpanman bread. We grabbed a couple pastries and some coffee and headed to the gardens.   IMG_4006
The entrance fee for the gardens is only 300 yen. There are some rules prohibiting you from doing things like bringing in animals, running, or bringing mats for picnics, but you can still bring in drinks and snacks. There were plenty of benches throughout the gardens to sit on, as well as a few bathrooms that were nice and clean, (and–surprisingly for Japan–even had soap!), and a couple areas for refreshments.IMG_4008I love that almost every tourist place in Japan has a stamping area so you can stamp a dated picture to remember your visit on a pamphlet or brochure.IMG_4009 IMG_4014 IMG_4015It didn’t take long at all for us to be very glad we decided to visit these beautiful gardens. IMG_4021It was hard to believe it’s the end of December with the bright weather and colorful leaves! IMG_4022 IMG_4023Chad and I shared a fluffy, sugar-crusted raisin bread and a danish-like pastry with apple, dried cranberries, raisins and powdered sugar.  IMG_4024 IMG_4028Rikugien Gardens are based on a theme of poetry, and this bridge and rock symbolizes a poem about loneliness in the moonlight.With the bright sunshine and loads of ducks swimming around nearby, we fortunately didn’t feel very lonely looking at it.  IMG_4030After spending an hour and a half or so enjoying the gardens, we headed back toward Sugamo station to check out Jizo-dori, a shopping street known as a Harajuku for Obachans (Japanese grannies).
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At the beginning of the street you can spot a little information hut that has several images of the Sugamo mascot, a duck called Sugamon. You are also greeted Sugamon’s great big, furry duck butt in a shrine!IMG_4031
Apparently touching the butt causes love and bonding, and if you touch the butt gently and softly, you won’t suffer an problems around your own butt. What a lucky thing to pass by!
IMG_4044I have a feeling the “healing properties” from rubbing the duck bum are related to the nearby temple, Kogan-ji. There is a statue within the temple that you can rub to heal your ailments. The picture above is of two men making New Year’s preparations for the temple entrance, but I failed to get any good pictures of the temple. You can see some pictures and read more about Kogan-ji (as well as some other interesting Jizo-dori facts) on this interesting blog if you’re interested though! IMG_4034IMG_4042 IMG_4040There are lots of interesting shops lining Jizo-dori that sell everything from traditional Japanese rice crackers to “sexy red bloomers for little old ladies.” IMG_4041 IMG_4045The shop above sold several sweet potato delights, including a whipped sweet potato concoction inside an apple. A nice old man bought some honey-covered sweet potato bites and gave one each to Chad and I. If you’re around the shop and have a little money to spare, I’d recommend indulging! IMG_4046We had a really nice day full of fresh air and interesting window-shopping before heading off to try the now-famed Michelin Star ramen for our late lunch/early dinner. I hope if you’re looking for an inexpensive afternoon in Tokyo that you’ll give these ideas a try, too. And if you’re reading from afar, what are some surprisingly nice things you’ve done to pass the time waiting?

xx Caitlyn

Food & Cooking · Reviews · Seen/Heard/Tried · Tried

Tsuta Ramen: the first ever ramen shop to receive a Michelin Star

Ever since we heard the news about Tsuta Ramen shop receiving a Michelin Star, we knew we had to give it a try. Our first attempt was one Friday after work, when we learned that the shop closes at 4:00 PM. Yeah, what? Chad called to confirm the shop was really already closed for the night to learn that not only are the hours incredibly limited (11:00 AM-4:00 PM), but that you have to get a placeholder ticket by 10:30 or 11:00 in the morning in order to get a bowl as well.
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Last Monday, Chad decided to take off the upcoming Wednesday from work to surprise me and go with me to Tsuta during the limited open hours. Much to our dismay, after getting the day-off request approved, he discovered Tsuta is closed on Wednesdays! Strike two!
IMG_3995Fortunately for us, now Chad is on vacation, so yesterday (Tuesday) we were able to scurry down toward Sugamo Station to get a ticket from Tsuta. We got there around 10:15, and were able to get tickets to reserve a spot for eating around 3:00. Unfortunately, all that was on offer for the day was Tsuta’s miso ramen, which I was especially bummed about because I tend to go for shoyu (soy based) or shio (salt based) ramen. Of course, that didn’t change our minds about giving the shop a try!
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Approaching the shop, you are greeted with several signs explaining the placeholder tickets. The tickets are color-coded, and the time you arrive to get a ticket determines the time you can come back to eat.
IMG_3999If you’re on a Tsuta ramen mission, don’t go sit in line to get your placeholder ticket! Open the door to talk to someone–if there is a line of people outside, they are already waiting for their dining time slot!
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You are advised to arrive a half an hour or so before your time slot, and if you miss your time or lose your ticket, you forfeit the 1000 yen deposit you give for your placeholder ticket.
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Once we got our placeholder tickets, we had to decide how to spend the next several hours. We came up with a few really nice ideas, which I’ll share in a future post. For now, the important thing to know is that if you’re in town to try Tsuta ramen, you really have to plan a day around it. We recommend going to the shop for a placeholder ticket around 7:30 or 8:00 AM to ensure you can have a bigger selection of ramen dishes, and so that you can get a more convenient time than we did.       IMG_4053Around 2:15 or so we came back to Tsuta Ramen and joined a line of several other customers. We slowly moved forward in the queue until we were welcomed inside and given our deposits back so we could chose our ramen. We had three choices: normal miso ramen, miso ramen with egg, and miso ramen with extra chicken. We chose the latter two options (which came to exactly 2000 yen total), and then continued to wait in the indoor line for seats to open up. IMG_4054We were pretty excited when our ramen was served. We were ready for new flavors–we’d never had chickpeas, sliced onions or chicken in our ramen before. IMG_4055 IMG_4056A good egg is usually a huge indication of my overall rating when it comes to ramen: it shouldn’t be completely hard boiled, but the yolk should be slightly cooked. My egg was spot-on. I liked the noodles, too, but sometimes the texture was a little grainy for me. I couldn’t tell whether that sensation was from the soba noodles themselves, or from the noodles being coated in miso broth. The ramen didn’t disappoint, but I would personally like to go back and try a bowl of the shoyu ramen. IMG_4057
Tsuta’s miso ramen is not my favorite ramen in Japan, but that could just be due to my lack of enthusiasm for miso based-ramen. Chad was quite impressed, so we’ll have to do some future investigation next time we can plan around Tsuta’s rather inconvenient hours. Either way, I’m glad we got a chance to try it! For information on hours and days in which Tsuta is open, click here.

Take care!
xx Caitlyn