Posted by Jess
17 June 2011

I've been delaying this post for a few days as this week has been very busy and I was working through the final details of our next adventures.  I know many of you have been asking about what's next for us.  As it took a little longer to get all sorted out, this news comes a little late. 

I am very excited to say that today I am headed home to the US.  Permanently.  I'm currently at the airport for my return trip to Minneapolis, where I'll have lots of family waiting to help celebrate the girls' birthdays. 

Life has been crazy and a roller coaster of emotions this past week.  After getting back from Singapore, I went to close our bank account.  Then the movers came on Sunday morning to pack up our shipment.  This was a stressful experience.  When they walked in, the movers said "this will never fit in your shipping carton."  So for two hours I prioritized with them - what had to go, what could stay, and helped them pack our things into the smallest places possible.  As it turns out, it almost all fit.  This was a huge relief since I already had 4 suitcases headed back with me and didn't want to take anymore!  On Sunday I cancelled our mobile phones and then headed into work for the evening.

This week was 4 days of all-day meetings to wrap up my part of the project I've been working on in Japan.  Although I wasn't the main speaker, it was a hectic week of managing logistics, materials and of course participating in the meetings myself.  Plus I was working to finish up other loose ends on the project.  There was not a lot of sleep happening at my house, that's for sure!

Wednesday was Ella's 5th Birthday.  It was a tough day for me to not be able to celebrate with her that day, but I did try to Skype and call.  As it turns out, she said it wasn't her birthday yet since there was no cake, presents or party.  I guess I was off the hook for not being there.

Wednesday night my coworkers and I went to the baseball game and had drinks at my apartment.  It was nice to just take the night off from work and relax a bit - it was very much needed.  But another late night  meant not enough sleep!

Thursday we had our last day of meetings, which was so great to finish up.  We had a celebration dinner at night that turned into a looooonggg karaoke session.  It was a blast - and I found some new favorites! - but didn't help with sleep issue!  I got home around 2am and packed until 4, then was up for work on Friday morning.

Today has been the craziest of days.  Until noon it was very busy, then slowed down and not it's just dragging on.   Saying goodbye to my coworkers felt weird - it hadn't hit me yet that I'm not coming back.  Then I had the apartment walk thru (inspection passed with flying colors, yay!) and closed our door for the last time.  It was hard not to cry as I was leaving the apartment.  I am very excited to get back to Jason and the girls, but sad that this adventure is ending.

So then to the airport...while I was checking in, my flight to Minneapolis was cancelled.  Then I was rebooked on a flight through Seattle with about a 3 hour delay from original arrival time to Minnesota.  While we were checking me in for that flight, the flight to Seattle got delayed so then I was rebooked to arrive in Minneapolis at 6pm on Friday the 17th.  The girls' birthday party is on the 18th so getting home on the 17th was a bit critical for me.  Usually these things get me all worked up (you all know what I'm like when my plans get changed unexpectedly) but this time I just had to laugh.  My brother is flying from Seattle to Minneapolis today too, but he'll be on the morning flight so he'll get in at noon and I won't arrive until 6.  Not ideal for the family to have to pick us up, but oh well - at least I'm getting there!

As I was going through security, I realized that I had in my carryon bag some items from our adventures here - namely a bottle of olive oil and a container of syrup.  You'd think I'd never flown before, trying to carry-on large bottles of liquid.  Clearly I wasn't coherent while I was packing.  I wonder what other crazy things I'll find when I get home.  I went through immigration and turned in my alien registration card and the girls too, since they left so unexpectedly.  At least that went smoothly.

What a wacky week.  I'm looking forward to getting some sleep on the flight and having a bit more energy when I get back to Minnesota.  I'll get back in time to wish Abby a happy 2nd birthday and in 24 hours I can kiss my girls goodnight.  And that's all that matters to me.

Thank you to everyone that has followed our adventures this past year.  Your reading encouraged us to keep up with posting and that means we'll have a great way to remember this fantastic year in our life.  It's been more of an adventure than we ever thought it would be, that's for sure.  I think this year has made us stronger as a family and helped me to understand better my small place in the world.  I know that I've been forever changed by this experience and I'm so grateful for that.

So what's next for the Woehrle clan, you ask?  First a much needed week of time with the girls.  And then on the 27th I'll go back to work.  In Florida.

I've accepted a job with a division of my company that is based in Jacksonville, Florida.  Over the coming weeks we'll be working on getting our house in Minnesota ready to rent out and finding a house in Florida to rent (near the beach, of course).  Today I can't think much about the chaos that the next few months will bring, but after these past few months, I've learned to just roll with it.   We'll figure it all out, we always do.  Jason and I are excited to get settled in somewhere together as a family and I'm looking forward to a new position at work with brand new challenges and opportunities.    And the girls are looking forward to being annual passholders at Disney World!

I think my flight is boarding soon....I hope....

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Posted by Jess
16 June 2011

As my time in Tokyo is winding down, my coworkers and I went out for a night on the town as my sayonara!  There is one style of restaurant I hadn't been to yet in Japan - shabu shabu.  The gang was nice enough to take me out for this experience before I head out of town. 

Shabu shabu involves creating a stew at your table and then dipping meat in the stew to lightly cook it, dip it the meat into a soup/sauce and then eating.  The table has a hot plate in the middle with water in it to start and you add vegetables to the water to add flavor.  Then when it's hot and ready to go, it's time to eat!

We went to a spot close to work called Chiriri.  It's a set course menu so for a price, you get an appetizer, drinks (from a select list) and the dinner. 

turn up the heat

get that water boiling

making the stew

the pork and soup arrive

cook the meat

don't forget your drinks!
We had a good time and took advantage of the free drinks for about 2 hours.  After that we headed out to a few other establishments and had a good time.  We ended up at a little pub with deep fried everything on a stick.  It was like a State Fair bar.  We had deep fried ham, fish, hot dogs, apples, bananas...and more drinks of course.

I went home very full and grateful for the good friends I've made in our short time here.

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Posted by Jess
16 June 2011

Last night I had the opportunity to go to a Japanese Major League Baseball game between the Yakult Swallows and the Seibu Lions.   Yakult is a beverage brand in Japan that owns the team and Seibu is a department store chain.  The Swallows home stadium is about 3 blocks from our apartment, yet I hadn't been to a game yet.  I thought I'd share a few photos and observations from the evening.

We just bought general admission tickets, which were about $20 each.  When we walked in, there was a place to stop if you brought in food or drinks.  But they didn't ask you to throw it out, they gave you a stadium cup to pour your drink in.  So helpful!  The stadium is a bit smaller than US stadiums (but everything here is smaller than the US version) and the general admission seats were full.  We had a hard time finding seats for four.  We sat in the grandstand on the left field line, which didn't have a fantastic view of the plate but we weren't really there to watch the game anyway.  

There are a lot of vendors walking around the stadium selling food and beer.  There are women selling beer in cans and then there are women with mini-kegs on their back that walk around.  When you buy a beer, they have a tap on the keg, fill a cup and hand it over.  They keep the kegs in insulated backpacks and there are people who help them swap out the kegs when they are empty.  There are apparently men who walk around with hard liquor and soda/mixer guns as well but I didn't see any of those.  They wear brightly colored outfits that say the brand of whatever beer they are selling (Kirin, Asahi, Sapporo). 

I don't have our good camera (Jason does) so I apologize for the poor quality in the pictures.

The food options are a bit different as well.  There are pizza stands, KFC, hot dog stands, but there's also Japanese style food.  Our group opted for hot dogs (more like brats) - some had chili and cheese.  We also had some breaded octopus (well, the guys did - I didn't try it).

The fans are fun - the away team fans filled the stands, had a band, and a lot of cheers.  The Swallows fans were a bit quieter and outnumbered this game, even though they were the home team.  The teams have cheerleaders too that come out and dance during breaks in the action. 

After the game, many fans stuck around for quite some time and beer was still being sold after the game was over.  Since no one is driving here and there are no open container laws, it's no problem to sell as much beer as possible!

Unfortunately the home team lost 8-0, but we didn't mind - we had a good time and I'm glad I got to have the experience.  It's a shame Jason couldn't join us!

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Posted by Jess
12 June 2011

Last week I had the opportunity to visit Singapore for a few days of meetings.  Singapore is an island country about 7.5 hours Southwest of Japan.  It's actually made up of 60+ islands, but only totals up to about 270 square miles of space.  It's about 85 miles north of the equator so its about 90 degrees every day and sticky every day year round!  There are about 5 million people in the country,  with about 3 million of them as native Singaporeans, which mostly are Chinese, Malaysian or Indian descent.  There are four official languages - one of which is English, which made it nice for me!

While I didn't get much time out and about during our time there, we did have two stops during our time there.  The first is the Raffles Hotel, which was a hotel opened at the turn of the 20th century while Singapore was under British rule through the East India Company.  And every movie you've ever seen about jungle expeditions and old colonial rule was right on at this hotel. I LOVED IT.  Seriously, I could have stayed there forever - although rooms are more than $500/night, so they'd eventually kick me out.  I wanted to buy a safari hat, find some mosquito netting and wait for a tiger to walk by.  I think I might have found the time of the world that I was meant to live in. 

fans at the Long Bar

the Singapore Sling - invented here in 1917 and cost about $25 each today.  yikes!
 A Raffles Hotel Singapore Sling is:
1 oz (30 ml) Gin
1/2 oz (15 ml) Cherry Brandy
4 oz (120 ml) Pineapple Juice
1/2 oz (15 ml) Lime Juice
1/4 oz (7.5 ml) Cointreau
1/4 oz (7.5 ml) Dom Benedictine
1/3 oz (10 ml) Grenadine
Dash of Angostura Bitters
Singapore is Western friendly and is a large financial and industrial center with a bustling port.  This means that there are many foreigners there and tourism/service is a huge industry for them!  In the past year, the government legalized gambling and there are two casino resorts in the country.  Singaporeans have to pay a hefty fee to enter (in order to keep the locals from getting addicted) but foreigners more than make up for it.   In 2011, Singapore - with only 2 resorts - is set to take over from Las Vegas as the 2nd largest casino market in the world.  I didn't go into the casino, but we had dinner at one of the resorts one night.  The shopping mall attached to the casino didn't disappoint either - every high fashion brand you could think of and not a single thing I could afford!

The casino resort was right on the bay so I was able to get one picture of the skyline as we left.  Like I said, I didn't get much time to explore Singapore, but found it to be wonderfully tropical, family-friendly, clean and overly air-conditioned.  I hope I'll get to go back and spend more time there.  Since my company's International Headquarters is based there, I'm sure I will!

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Posted by Jess
11 June 2011

These past two weeks have been a bit crazy for me and the next one will be even crazier.  June 5th passed by me and that means I missed a monthly blog post.  So the 10th installment of this series is about Japanese hotels.   There are a few different kinds (and we have not stayed in all of them) but thought I would share.  I was out last weekend with friends and saw a sign for a capsule hotel that sparked a discussion that lead to this post.

The first kind of hotel here is a Western Style hotel. In the city, these are very common and it's just like any other hotel you've stayed at in the US or Europe.  Rooms are usually pretty small compared to US hotels, but similar to European hotel rooms.  We have most of the major brands here - Hyatt, Sheraton, Hilton, Intercontinental, etc.  These are pretty boring as far as things go, so just know that they exist and I'll move on...

The second kind of hotel is called a ryokan.  These Japanese inns are like the one we stayed in when we went to Kamogawa (see post here: Hotel Kamogawa ).   The inn has rooms with tatami mats and small tables.  There are no beds, just futon mattresses that are set up at bedtime.  Bathrooms are communal and you wear traditional Japanese yakuta and slippers in common areas.  Shoes (as in all Japanese homes) are left at the door.  Almost all of these types of accommodations include an onsen, a bathing area made from hot springs, with an area for women and an area for men.  Breakfast and dinner are usually included and served in your room.  Ryokans are very common outside of the city of Tokyo.

The third kind of hotel is a capsule hotel.  The 'rooms' are actually just rectangular shaped bunks (kind of like military bunks) with a locker area for your items.  The sleeping rooms are about 6 feet long by 4 feet wide and 4 feet tall.  Some include a TV and most have a door or curtain at the opening for privacy.  You rent a tube for a few hours or a night just to sleep and then there's a community bathroom to use for showering.  This is most often used by businessmen who stay out too late in the evening and just need to rest before going back to work, those just needing a cheap place to catch a few hours sleep, or the unemployed.  It's generally about $25 to $50 a night to rent a sleeping room.  The rooms are stacked 2 high and hotels can have anywhere from just a few to 500 rooms and the areas are split between rooms for men and rooms for women. 

The fourth type of hotel is a love hotel or couples hotel.  These are rooms that are rented by the hour and are all themed for whatever might be the couple's room of choice, which can range from the very mundane to the very strange depending on the hotel.  In Japan most couples live with parents and grandparents in the same household, with rice paper for walls.  You can imagine why these hotels might be popular for couples looking for a bit of privacy.  From Wikipedia:  It is estimated that more than 500 million visits to love hotels take place each year, which means around 1.4 million couples, or 2% of Japan's population, visit a love hotel each day.  Because of their purpose, only couples are allowed to rent these rooms as they are not very expensive (about $30 an hour) and the hotels do not want to encourage the patrons of capsule hotels or just every day visitors to the city to come to theirs instead.  Renting a room here usually includes selecting your room from an electronic menu and then paying for the room through a vending machine so there is little to no interaction with a staff member.  Most are located near or within major train stations in the city.  The hotels are sometimes hard to identify and have multiple entrances/exits - all of this is to help customers be discreet. 

So next time you are looking for a place to stay in Japan, be weary of the name and make sure you know that it's the type of hotel you are looking for!  We've only stayed in the Western Style and once in a ryokan.  If you're traveling to Japan, I encourage you to try a ryokan - we have many friends here that love them and I think they are the true Japanese experience.  But be warned, they can be a bit difficult with little kids!

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1 June 2011
Posted by Jess

Wanted to pop back onto the blog after a bit of an absence to say Happy Birthday to Jason!  It's been a crazy year filled with lots of ups and downs we never expected but through it all, Jason's been amazing and I'm so grateful for him - I'm sure that things would be so much harder for me to be so far away if I didn't know that the girls (and the other half of our life!) were in such good hands.

As for me, I'm back in Tokyo and working towards wrapping things up.  While the return date isn't definitive yet, I'm aiming for just a few weeks left in Asia.  Hopefully we'll nail that down soon.  I spent two weeks in May in the US and it was fantastic!  We've been able to move back into our home now so when I arrived on Friday, we were able to go back to a familiar place.  It was amazing to me that by the time we woke up on Saturday it felt like we had never left, as if we lived the last year of our life in a black hole.  Even Ella remembered things from around our house and ways to get to some of our old stomping grounds, which reminds me that it has been a year, because just a few months ago she didn't really remember much (or at least that she knew).

The two weeks were filled with family and work and it felt good.  The girls and I celebrated the upcoming arrival of our new niece/cousin at a baby shower, we visited with family in from out of town, we worked on the yard and house to get ready for summer, finished up the necessary paperwork on our new car, took walks, went to the pool, and played outside whenever possible.   I also spent a lot of time at work trying to figure out what's next for me when I leave Japan.  I'll definitely share what's next for us when we have it all sorted out (hopefully soon!). 

On the 30th I arrived back in Japan to a rainy Sunday evening.  June is a rainy month here and a few typhoons have been moving through the area so it's a pretty steady rain during these times.  Luckily I have my trusty rain boots and an umbrella!  I realized when I was making my way home from the airport on Sunday that I really love this city.  Being away and rejuvenating with my family allowed me to refresh my view of the city and much like when we were back in the US for the Christmas holiday, I remember all the things I love about living in a big city with so much to do and see.

The next few weeks will be busy at work while I work to get things in order for this job and the next one, we have a work trip next week and somewhere in all of this I have to pack up the apartment and close up our affairs here so I'm ready to go whenever we get the final date figured out.  We're definitely on the homestretch which is a little bittersweet, but having my family back in the U.S. waiting for me makes it easier to look forward to ending my time here.  I'm certain that when we are all back together as a family, the adventure is still just beginning...

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Posted by Jess
12 May 2011

It's been getting harder and harder lately for me to be here and Jason and the girls to be home.  They've moved back into our home in Minnesota now which is good.  It's a start to getting things back to normal.  Our families have been amazing to take us in during this very strange, unexpected, and long transition back to the U.S.  We've relied heavily on the generosity of our parents 7 weeks now and I am sure they are ready to have their homes back!  Currently I am slated to end my time here on June 17th, which means we're over halfway there if that date sticks.  I had a trip planned for this weekend to the U.S. for Jason's little sister's baby shower, and I've been able to extend my time for a few days to work in the U.S. which is great.  But I know at the end of that time it will be back to Tokyo for another month or so of separation. 

I think what's been the most difficult for me is that here in Tokyo in the past few weeks things have returned to pretty much normal.  Some of the escalators and lights that were off before have been switched back on, stores are fully stocked, trains are just as cramped as ever, restaurants are busy, and we don't seem to notice any aftershocks below a 6.0 anymore.  (I guess we've just gotten used to the others because the 4.5-5.9 ones still come 5-6 times a day.)  The news is a lot less nuclear power plant focused and most days I don't think about it much.  

Lately I've been feeling like the hardship of being separated isn't worth it, that there is no risk and they should just be here.  And if we did that, some of the grief I've gotten about making this decision would just go away.  Some of the friends that left have now returned and I've gotten calls asking for playdates with Ella and Abby.  Plus Jason loves it here - it was so hard to see him go and know that he didn't get to do everything he wanted to during our time here.  The things that used to just strike as different or funny before are starting to annoy me because I don't want to be here alone.  I'm worried about this strange time ruining my memories of our experience and fun here.  But I know in the back of mind that there's no going back now and regretting what we felt was the best decision at the time just isn't going to do any good. 

Then today on my twitter feed I see this:
Tepco fixed water level indicators of the No.1 reactor at Fukushima plant. New data said the water level is below the whole fuel rods.
So I check the news article.  Sure enough, radiated water is leaking back into the ocean.  And the gauge they were relying on to tell them the water levels was broken all along.  Fuel Rods completely exposed?  May have partially melted?  Isn't that the stuff that on March 12th everyone was so worried about happening? 
In the morning on the train and in the stations, I hear the hum and feel the breeze of the air conditioning unit.  It's been about 70 degrees here and while I do appreciate the air conditioning, it reminds me of the whole problem that was talked about 2 months ago, "we have enough power now, but when it gets warmer and people turn on the a/c, power outages will be necessary".  The time has arrived.
At this moment I know that although it may not be top of mind, the situation is still all the same as it was on April 3rd, when we made our decision.  And would I make a different call today?  Maybe.  But only because I want us to be together and that's weighing more heavily now that we're apart.  So I need to be stronger and remember that a few months of being apart is nothing compared to the "what if". 
But it doesn't make me miss my family any less.
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