Kyoto

Kyoto is a city in central Japan, and the word, “Kyoto,” means “Capital City.” Tokyo means “Eastern Capital,” and for about a thousand years, from 800 AD until 1868, Kyoto was the seat of Japan’s Imperial Court. This has created a greater sense of Japanese historical culture than you get in Tokyo. Tokyo is full of what might be considered modern Japanese culture–anime, electronics, industry, etc. while Kyoto feels more full of history, despite the fact that it was ravaged by serious wars throughout its tenure as the capital of Japan.

We visited Kyoto to see and appreciate it, and had a wonderful visit. We started out with Kinkakuji Temple–an amazing golden temple that was originally built as a dude’s house, which is literally plated in gold. After the original builder died, his kid converted it to a temple for Zen Buddhism. For us, it was a fun park to walk around and think about how greedy we’d all like to be and wonder how hard it would be to melt the gold off the building so we could put it in a vault and swim around like Uncle Scrooge. We explored, made a few coin tosses, and rang some bells to let the spirits know we had arrived and were making a prayer.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

After that, we hit up Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine, which is actually just the first of a bunch of shrines that go up a mountain, accessed by paths covered with Torii gates–the traditional Japanese red-pillared gates. Inari is the God of Rice, and also of business, both of which make him/her/it a pretty popular diety in Japan (Inari is represented as male, female, and androgynous.) When a business is successful, it’s considered good behavior to build a Torii at a shrine to Inari, and Fushimi is one of the most popular spots to do so. It was pretty fun to run up and down and pause at the various shrines as we hiked up the mountain.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;
We tried to follow the pictured instructions before entering the shrine. Mormons are apparently not unique in hoping for clean hands and a pure heart from its patrons.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;
There were these fox statues all over–they are apparently regarded as messengers, and are often carved with a key to the rice granery. They’re pretty common at Inari shrines.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;
The business that donated the Torii gate gets to have their name down the side so you know they are a successful business. I didn’t ask what they do if they later go under.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;
And of course, if you see Bamboo this thick, you have to climb it.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;
I honestly don’t remember this part, but at some point, Betsy and I must have gotten tired of carrying the kids around and offered to let them take a nap in a locker. Who would pass on something like that?

After Fushimi, we rented some bicycles so we could ride over to Otagi Nenbutsu-ji, an awesome Buddhist temple that is nicknamed the Temple of a Thousand Buddhas. The poor thing has been destroyed half a dozen times since it was first built, and moved uphill every time they rebuilt it, trying to keep it from further damage. We only had to ride our bikes about 12 km, but it was up a mountainside, and we all had excuses–the boys were young and Betsy and I had the girls in the kiddie seats behind us. We made it, though, and had a really fun time exploring and laughing about the little statues–they’re called Raken and actually represent Buddha’s disciples, and are generally humorous in design. There’s over 1,200 of them at this temple and we enjoyed pretending to be Raken.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

The trip concluded with a hike up Monkey Mountain. It’s a hill that is a habitat for a troop of monkeys and at the top, there’s a cage that people can get into and you’re allowed to hand food out through the bars of the cage to the monkeys. Food isn’t allowed anywhere else on the mountain, because if the monkeys see it, they’ll chew your face off to get it, and give you rabies and lice and stuff. It was really fun, but also kind of freaky, because sometimes they would fight and you realize that they’re phenomenally agile, wiry, and full of sharper and longer teeth than you want around your kids.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;
Hiking with Lea is always a bit of an exercise in patience. She doesn’t like hiking, and that can be seen on Betsy’s face.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;
And of course, we took the bullet train home, because Japan.

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Spring in Tokyo

Japan is famous for some pretty amazing cherry blossoms. Tourists come to Japan year-round, but they really come out in the spring when the cherry blossoms are in full force. There are a lot of festivals with street food, activities, etc. that folks go to. When we first moved there, Crystal came to visit us. It was well-timed to enjoy the cherry blossoms and we had a great time with her. We lived right near the Temple, at the north side of a triangular park called Arisugawa park, that had some great turtles in it, and very near to the Roppongi district, which is very popular with the tourists for Karaoke, great food, and other bar-type activities. (Sadly, Betsy and I were old married codgers by the time we moved there, and since we don’t smoke or drink, much of Roppongi’s charm was lost on us.)

While Crystal was visiting, we also visited Mount Takao, a really great family hike that is close enough to Tokyo to do it in an afternoon. It goes up a nice paved path to a temple. Of course, since we went in Spring, it was rainy and we were hiking in a cloud, but that’s part of life. Can’t always be sunny days and cool breezes.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

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Settling in

We were able to find a great little house in the middle of Tokyo. We live in Minato ward, and Hiroo district. Our house was a good choice—not as nice as some of the apartments we might have chosen, but, as Betsy put it, we would have “daily anxiety” about whether or not the kids were irritating the neighbors on six sides had we elected to live in a nicer apartment. We also have a great little courtyard that we can tell the kids to color with sidewalk chalk, or kick a soccer ball when they get too bouncy.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

We also started exploring our neighborhood and found a number of small parks. To be completely honest, they make me a little sad. It’s nice to see a little play structure and all, but they’re so manicured and any place where grass is supposed to grow, it’s fenced off lest it be trampled to death by the four million people who live within half a mile of the park. Even so, it’s nice to find them, and there’s one with a slide made out of the rollers you generally see in a distribution center owned by FedEx. At least they have bathrooms.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

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Toronto to Tokyo

When we left for Canada, I received some good advice from a coworker about how Nike handles International Assignments. He explained that because it is considered an investment for Nike to send someone on assignment, they have a robust process of evaluating transferees at 12 months, with three possible outcomes:

  • You suck: If, after 12 months, you are not successfully achieving the goals for your position, they would immediately pull you back to the US and stick you in whatever job was available, and it probably wouldn’t be one you would want.
  • You Rock! If you were doing well, then they would put a star by your name and talk about a good move that you would like and try to make it happen sometime in the next 12 months or so.
  • Meh: If you don’t suck, but you aren’t a rockstar either, then you just kind of ride out your assignment’s full three years and at the end, nobody remembers who you are, and they don’t know what to do with you.

This context was in my mind in December when I got an “off the record” warning from a coworker that my name had been tossed around in regards to some jobs in North America DTC, and that I might get a call from my U.S. based boss about them. (Remember, I had had an amazing first 7 months, followed by an “upgrade” to the distribution center that crippled our business for several months. I also had a new U.S. boss who didn’t really know me.) Betsy and I spent a week or so trying to wrap our minds around the idea that circumstance was against us and I might be yanked and demoted to a lame job. There were even two absolutely terrible jobs open that I knew I would hate but fit the bill perfectly if you were punishing a failure.

After not sleeping for a week, I got a call from my U.S. boss, who was clearly out of breath running between two of buildings on campus. “Hey…your name…has come up…in relation to…some jobs…in Japan.” Pant, pant, “If you…aren’t willing to go to Japan…tell me now…so I can tell them…not to call you.” Pant, pant.

Well, that sure put a whole new paint job on things. I didn’t know what jobs were available in Japan, but shoot, it was JAPAN. Of course I was willing to talk to them.

Fun video interview process later and I was on a plane to find us a house. Betsy was welcomed but declined the invitation to go on the house-hunting trip, so I went on my own. I called her the first night to say, we’re in trouble. These places all pretty much suck. I think that is a ploy used by our agent to ensure we agree on day two, because after spending 12 hours looking at places I wouldn’t wish on my worst sister-in-law, when I saw one that didn’t smell like smoke, fish, or have walls that are literally made of paper, I screamed, “I’ll take it!” and we were done.

Luckily, our house is big enough for everyone. I’m betting Betsy will write more about it later. We got to fly to Tokyo in Business Class, which is a treat that I don’t think you can really appreciate until you try it. Sure, you might think it’d be nice to have a little more leg room, or perhaps you’d like some real food, or a stewardess that actually tries to help instead of being irritated that you breathe, but until you try it, you’ll never understand just how amazing it feels to pretend to be rich. It’s no wonder the rich are snobs–it truly is a different world.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

We arrived pretty late and went straight to the hotel, where we stayed on the 50th floor and had a great view of Tokyo. We went to church all dressed up in the amazing Church clothes that Alex and Marina had given us. Church has been great, although we found out how much it’s like college when the summer hit and suddenly, we were freshmen and all the seniors we’d started to befriend left town forever because their assignments were over.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

As we got settled in, there were a number of things that turned out to be harder than we were used to, among them, getting the house stocked with everything we would need. While I went to work, Betsy walked the mile or so to the grocery, with a duffel or a back-pack so she could load it back up and then walk back home. There were a number of texts designed to make me feel like a terrible husband for dragging my poor wife across the world and making her carry 50-lb bags of food and cleaning supplies up hills in foreign countries.

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

Russell Anderson: Tokyo: March 2014-August 2014 &emdash;

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Christmas with the Ice Storm

We got some snow early in December this year, which was great, because who doesn’t love a white Christmas? (Thank you, Danny Kaye & Bing Crosby.) Around a week or so before Christmas, though, the temperature started to rise to close to freezing and Texas sent us up a rainstorm of all things. The air where the rain-clouds were was above freezing while the air down on the ground was below freezing so for about two days, it rained and at the end of it, everything had a two-inch thick coating of ice.

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

It made the streets and the neighborhood look like a Swarovski exhibit, and was pretty solid. In most places, the ice was strong enough to hold me (165 lbs) and every once in a while it would break through and I would fall down into the foot of snow below the ice crust.

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

The obvious thing to do when 165 lbs doesn’t break through the ice crust is grab a hammer to concentrate your force into a smaller surface area and take advantage of whatever physics principles of leverage and kinetic energy that make smashing holes in the crust so fun. If we’re all honest about it, Betsy will probably tell you she doesn’t get it. (Not the science, the fun; she gets the science.)

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Of course it played havoc with the poor trees and powerlines. (The trees in these pics used to stand up straight.)

We lost power on Saturday, December 21, as the temperature was heading back toward a deep freeze. I had to let Michelle and Brian know (they were flying in Christmas Eve) that we didn’t have heat, power, or water at our house (the water is on a well with an electric pump, and while the heat is gas, for some reason, it doesn’t run if there’s no power).

For 3 days, we filled pots with water and set them in front of our gas fireplace (oddly enough, that worked, even though you turn it on with a light-switch) so that we would have something to dump down the toilets to get them to flush. We slept in sleeping bags and drove down to my office to shower in the gym there.

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

We almost didn’t finish our ginger-bread houses before it got too dark to see for family night.

Michelle and Brian got to spend about 3 hours in the dark helping us put the finishing touches on Christmas preparations when a Christmas miracle restored power at about 11:00pm on Christmas Eve.

Christmas morning was fun, as always, with some really fantastic presents that the kids made each other. Reid made everyone super-hero towels, Porter painted some pretty amazing super-hero posters, and Afton made everyone pencil-holders. Lea (Betsy) made everyone the thing that they were giving so Reid got a towel, Porter got a poster, and Afton got a pencil-holder.

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

It was awesome to have Michelle and Brian around. They stayed until Saturday and played with the kids the whole time–with presents, in the snow, card-games, whatever.

Betsy made me an awesome felt picture of our kids and I made her a Family night assignment board.

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Porter’s Special Month

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Porter turned 8 this month and that comes with a lot of excitement. It started with a Harry Potter party with his friends.

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

In typical Betsy fashion, it was amazing. Betsy was Professor McGonagall, I was Snape. The kids all got wands, learned how to do spells, in Potions class we lit some stuff on fire (of course), and then the smart ones got to go to Honeydukes and buy an assortment of dragons’ tears and slug repellent.

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

He had a second party a week later when his cousins arrived where we played some awesome games involving marbles and water-buckets, and shower-caps and marshmallows.

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;
He got a new bicycle that he’s pretty excited about.

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;
Even though she doesn’t look like it here, Grandma Porter had a blast!

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

After all the parties, we had a wonderful baptismal service. Porter picked out all the speakers, singers, and other participants and it was a really special moment. At the end of the day, Porter told Betsy that he felt ‘loved.’ We are very proud of him.

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

Russell Anderson: 2013 Fall/Winter &emdash;

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