Monday, March 30, 2015

Kit Kat Easter Fun Run in Tokyo

Have any plans for Sunday at 9 am?

Participants have to apply by March 31st and are chosen via lottery. They're encouraged to dress up as the Easter Bunny and will get a bag of the Easter Kit Kats after the run/walk.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

I Want One

We were shopping at Homes last month and came across two walls of the wonderful Japanese toilet seats. This was the closest he's come to taking me seriously about buying one so I'm [a tiny bit] optimistic. I wrote about my weird obsession with fancy Japanese toilets in 2009 and you can read that post here.

On a side note, Homes is a cross between Target, JCPenney, Home Depot/Lowes, Marshalls and Petco.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Kit Kat Sandwich at First Kitchen

Break me off a piece of that Kit Kat....sandwich?!

First Kitchen is a fast food chain in Japan. Today was my first time in one and I would compare it to a Burger King in the U.S.

Not only do we have a plethora of Kit Kat flavors, but now we have a Kit Kat sandwich! The details can be found at First Kitchen's website.

This became available on Thursday but between school field trips, homework, making cookies and rain I wasn't able to make it out until today.

You can see the size of the sandwich with my hand in the first photo. I think it's comparable to the size of a Thomas' English Muffin. The bun was spongy and a little sweet...almost like a steamed pork bun. The description says it has whipped cream but it was more like Cool Whip to me. Not very sweet and not much flavor (for an American palette). The orange peel was looked (albeit larger) and tasted like the orange peel Starbucks used with its Orange White Mocha in January. The Kit Kat was Kit Kat CafĂ© which is made for dipping in hot drinks. It seemed to be more crunchy than others I've had. I bought one from the display in front of the register and will have it tomorrow morning with a cup of coffee.

It was good and once my daughters taste it they'll try to convince me to pack this "sandwich" in their school lunches instead of the usual turkey or PB&J.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Apple Pie with Carrot Easter Kit Kats

That's not a typo, they really are apple pie with carrot flavor. I didn't taste much carrot and wonder if they added the flavor since rabbits are synonymous with carrots.

There aren't many Japanese Christians, but what I noticed when we lived here from 2008-2010 and again this time around, the commercialization of holidays is becoming the norm. Check out this post or this one, both about Santa Claus and Christmas from December 2008. This is the first time Nestle has connected Kit Kats with Easter.

In a recent post about Japanese Kit Kats I talked about them being popular and marketed to students. These continue to do so. I asked a man on the train platform to translate the packaging for me. According to the kind gentlemen who spoke excellent English, Nestle is saying Easter is an ii sutaato or "great start." April also happens to be the start of the school year in Japan, so they're playing that up.

There are 13 different designs in all and 12 minis in each bag. One in every 30 has the "Lucky Easter" design. We only opened three, but the first was that one. Lucky me?!

I thought they were very good and sweet. I didn't taste much carrot though; probably for the best. One of my daughters didn't like them and the other wouldn't try. They reminded me of the Nagano Apple Kit Kats I got on our trip to see the Nagano Snow Monkeys. You can click here to see that post.

I hope your spring is off to an ii sutaato!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Adult Cocoa Kit Kats

No, not "Fifty Shades of Gray" Kit Kats! Not adult as in adult. In one of my recent posts I talked about Kit Kats being marketed for exams and students. Well to balance that out and remind adults they haven't outgrown them, Kit Kat/Nestle Japan has one just for us. The word "cocoa" is on the front of the box and I asked the cashier exactly what it meant...she said it's dark chocolate. I think they tasted like a cup of hot chocolate, but wouldn't consider them dark chocolate compared to what the average American palette is used to.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Yokosuka & Ikego Floor Plans with Dimensions

I had a very hard time finding interior pictures of houses and floor plans of Yokosuka and Ikego housing in 2008. Having lived here from 2008-2010 we knew what furniture to bring and what to store this time around. Below are what you'll find in Ikego and the tower layout is the same as the three bedroom tower on the main base of Yokosuka. You can click here to read my post about the Yokosuka Housing Office and how the process worked for us in January 2015.

Ikego three bedroom townhouse first floor

Ikego three bedroom townhouse second floor

Ikego three bedroom tower/high rise/apartment (nine floor buildings)

Ikego four bedroom townhouse first floor

Ikego four bedroom townhouse second floor

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011

Yahoo Japan
Tomorrow, March 11, 2015 marks the 4th anniversary of the Japan earthquake. The Japanese National Police Agency reported 15,889 deaths, 6,152 injured and 2,601 missing. When we lived here before I traveled up to Fukushima with the girls for the Soma-Nomaoi Festival. The area was beautiful and people very kind and gracious.

On March 10, 2011 we were living in Hawaii. I had LASIK eye surgery that morning and spent the afternoon and evening asleep. I woke up to breaking news about an earthquake in Japan. Shortly after the tsunami warning alarms going off and we could hear them through the closed windows and running AC. We lived on Ford Island, an evacuation zone. We had no idea how severe the earthquake was, but we were able to get in touch with our friends and former neighbors still living here. Not long after the earthquake the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant melted. I immediately thought of the people we met and the time we spent there in 2009.

On March 11th Yahoo Japan will donate ¥10 towards the recovery for each person that searches "3.11." Last year Yahoo donated ¥25 million or about $215,000 USD. More details can be read here; the text will below the video will have already been translated into English.

Screen shot from my computer after searching "3.11" this morning.

Updated 3/11/15 to add search page screen shot.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Setsubun (Bean Throwing Festival)

Setsubun is a bean throwing festival held every February 3rd. It's the first day of spring according to the lunar calendar. Setsubun is about getting rid of evil and bringing in fortune. People throw beans out windows and doors of their homes and also go to shrines and temples. We went to Seto-Jinja Shrine to participate in the festivities. When we lived here from 2008-2010 I took the girls to Hasedera, a temple in Kamakura. It's not a national holiday, but it's celebrated throughout Japan. Even Google celebrated...see the screen capture from my computer below. 

We hopped on the train as soon as school was out and stopped at a convenience store to pick up oni (ogre or monster) masks and some beans. You’re supposed to eat the number of beans to match your age for good luck and fortune. As much as I love the roasted soy beans, I didn't eat 35…I did have eight though. The girls each ate their age in beans and were sure to count aloud while doing so.

We got to the shrine a few minutes after they had started but were still able to get a good spot to stand in. The girls were so excited to catch beans and after a few minutes remember doing it before. We went to a small shrine, but at the larger ones in Tokyo they'll have sumo wrestlers and celebrities throwing the beans. They're in little packages that fit in my palm. On some packages are stickers...if one you catch has a sticker you win a prize. We didn't win a prize, but, to be honest, it's about the experience and culture submersion for us. I think it's important. 

We didn't catch any beans during the first set. A gentleman in front of us gave the girls one packet each. So sweet and generous of him! There were bows all around and hugs too. While the priests and important members of the shrine were throwing beans the MC was yelling "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" That translates into Out with demons! In with fortune! You'll hear him if you watch the 45 second video below. If you subscribe and get the posts in your email you may need to click the link at the top of the message to view the video on the website. 

Making an offering & prayer
We were there for maybe 90 minutes and had a wonderful time. People were so kind and welcoming to us. A few even translated for us to let us know what would be happening, when and what it's meaning was. The later it got the more kids arrived. At the end the adults moved to the back and all the kids were in front. On the way out we bought the traditional Setsubun food, eho-maki. They're sold at grocery and convenience stores too. When people eat them they face the direction that's good luck for that particular year. This year it was west-southwest.   

Our beans, roll and masks at home

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Video Streaming on Base...without a VPN

Streaming options using the Sony blu-ray. 
Billabong is the only option.
We have a Sony blu-ray player that connects to the internet to stream Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc. When we lived in Hawaii and Rhode Island we had no problem streaming said services through it. It stopped working as soon as we plugged it in and got it set up in Japan. Those apps wouldn't even show up on the screen as options to connect to. We then went out and bought a ROKU 3 at the NEX. Only a handful of channels (YouTube and some self-help) would show up and could be added. That’s great, but the reason we spent the nearly $100 was to use Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc since we couldn't with our Sony blu-ray player.

Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and Pandora all work on our computers, tablets, and phones. Though we are physically in Japan, the streaming services recognize us as having an American IP address since we are connecting to the internet on base. Whether living on the main base of Yokosuka or satellite base of Ikego, they’ll work. Sony and ROKU, however, do not. They see us as being in Japan, so their servers block us from using the services we pay for. It's aggravating because they're blocking the U.S. Military service members and their families. Our cable and ISP, Americable, can't do anything about it since the services work on the computer...that proves the problem isn't with Netflix, etc. 

It’s aggravating that these devices are sold at the NEX, but don’t work as advertised without workarounds. Sony even has a dedicated section at the back of the electronics department to sell their products. There are no signs to tell you about the limitations. None of the workers on the sales floor seemed to know either. You won’t realize they don’t fully work out of the box until you take them home.

We called the Sony and ROKU help lines several times to see if they could do anything. They both ran us through hours of troubleshooting and factory resets. They both claimed the units should work on any American IP address, but had no explanation why ours was an exception. The Sony rep ultimately suggested we send the blu-ray player in to be repaired. It sounded like they were following scripts, so they had no way to address a problem that was outside the normal. We eventually talked to the local Sony rep at the NEX. Sony servers block us. Period. According to the rep there is an agreement to get it working in April.

We eventually found some workaround ideas online for the ROKU but none solved the complete problem. It took a while since there was so much misinformation. This is a technical issue that a lot of people don’t understand, but that doesn’t stop them from providing advice. Apparently, the surefire method is to pay for a VPN account and set it up on your router. This will route all of your internet traffic through a server in the U.S., hiding your actual, problematic IP. The problem is that a VPN account can cost up to $15/ month. We shouldn’t have to pay for this since the streaming services already work here. 

As for the ROKU...the key is doing the initial account set up in the U.S. This was confusing since a lot of people said theirs worked fine. After asking friends/neighbors and posting on numerous message boards, I figured it out. Some suggestions were to have a VPN, plug the ROKU directly into the router, or to return it since it won't work. One person that responded said they had a ROKU 2 before moving here, bought a ROKU 3 at the NEX and haven't had any problems. That's when the light bulb went on in my head. Bottom line - If you set up your ROKU in the U.S. it'll work here. It will also work if you add a new ROKU box to your existing account (that was set up in the U.S). If you buy one and try to set up a new account on a US military base over seas it won't work

The solution was to have friends in Boston do the initial account setup on their computer for me. I chose the username, password, etc and they put in all the information for me via the ROKU website. They then added my ROKU box to the account and it activated on my TV screen here. As they added Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and PBS, the channels instantaneously appeared on my TV. Now we can add and remove any channels we want from the TV and the ROKU is none-the-wiser. 

As for Sony...we'll see and I'll keep you posted. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Sakura Season is Almost Here

Japan Weather Assoc
Here is this year's sakura zensen (cherry blossom front). If you'd like to see or read more, click here. Sakura, or cherry blossoms as they're known in the United States, are a big deal here in Japan. The Japanese gave the cherry tree to the U.S. in 1912. When we lived here from 2008-2010 I found sakura Kit Kats and am hoping they're released again. Here is my post about sakura from 2009...the girls are so little and have changed so much! On a side note, I changed the header of the blog today. I used a picture I took in Kamakura from this post.   

Friday, March 6, 2015

Mini Message Pack Kit Kats

The Japanese pronouce Kit Kat as "kitto kattso" and it literally translates into "you will surely win." They’ve become popular to give to students at entrance exam time and that’s a huge campaign here; they're like a good luck charm. There is a marketing genius behind Nestle’s Kit Kats, no doubt about it!

They can be sent directly through the mail and even have "Kit Kat Mail" at post offices. We were running errands and stopped in to the Yokosuka Post Office last month. Right at the counter was a box and on it a space to write an address. No need to wrap or package them up, they're ready to go as you see to the right. 

I have only seen the large box at the post office, but the box I got, the Mini Exam Message Pack, has a spot to address and mail. On the back is a student with a singer, May J. It reads, "Dear Students (or examinees), everyone is supporting you." 

There are three mini sets per box and they each had a different message engraved into the chocolate. Each individual package has a spot on the back to write a note or message to the recipient. There are 15 different messages in all, but when I went back to the store the next day they were gone. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Momofuku Ando's Google Doodle

Google Japan's Google Doodle

Today would be Momofuku Ando's 105th birthday. Not familiar with the name? I wasn't either until clicking on today's Google Doodle from Google Japan. Mr. Ando invented instant ramen...or as many Americans know it, likely college students, Cup Noodle soup.

There are four animated gifs on Google today but the one above is my favorite. Below are screenshots from my phone. You can read about Mr. Ando and instant ramen here. Itadakimasu!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Hinamatsuri (Girls' Day)

Tokyo Weekender
It's Hinamatsuri or Girls' Day in Japan! Today, March 3rd, people pray and wish for health and happiness for their daughters. Many families, and even stores, have dolls displayed called hina-ningyo.

Kokeshi & sakura cookies I
made. More can be seen here
One of the largest displays to celebrate Hinamatsuri is in Chiba. I'd like to go there next year since this year our schedule didn't allow for it. has a great article and some photos that can be seen here.

My daughters are excited to celebrate with a traditional cake tonight...who wouldn't be excited for cake?!

Google Japan has a Google Doodle. I took a screen shot of it from my computer but it is animated. In some prefectures (Japan's version of a state), they'll float straw dolls; that's being portrayed in the Doodle.

Below are some displays at the grocery store today and what I bought for tonight.

Chirashizushi sushi
Strawberry cake