Parenting has never been an easy job, but throw a pandemic into the mix, and things get hairy fast. The pandemic has been a recipe for disaster for many families, but it doesn’t have to be the story of your family. In this episode of Life in Japan we have an honest look at the things that have helped us manage our family during the pandemic, and even some discoveries that will help us stay strong long after the pandemic is gone. It’s parenting, Life in Japan style.
It’s always a good idea to give credit to whom credit is due, and in the case of birthdays and parties around the Reutter household, Ruth (a.k.a. Momma-chan) is the reason they are so memorable! It all starts months before the birthday, when she asks the kids what type of birthday and birthday cake they want. They usually say something wild and crazy, and away she goes, imagining how to make it a reality.
She searches in stores and online for the best party supplies and tracks down the best presents for the occasion. Often the presents are a highlight for the other kids, who are quick to jump in and try them out. Ruth goes to awesome lengths to make snacks, cookies, birthday cakes and meals to make the whole thing special. She invites friends and family and for a great celebration.
We’ve had some big parties, having as many as 60 people in our modest little home! That’s unimaginable during this pandemic, so we had to do something much smaller this year. We like to do something fun for birthdays where the kids friends, family and classmates can come together. We’ve even had some parties at our Paz Coffee Shop.
Even though this year’s party was smaller, we can share it with you threw this video. Enjoy this warm, family-oriented episode of Life in Japan!
Yokohama is the city next-door to us, Japan’s first modern International city. It’s called “Japan’s front door” and for good reason — it grew from a fishing village of 800 people to the second largest city in Japan in around 200 years because it became the international port for all of Kanto (a.k.a Greater Tokyo).
Yokohama was the acceptable place for foreigners to live, and as such it became Japan’s first truly international city. It is home to the largest Chinatown in all of Japan, and perhaps the world. On the bluffs of Yokohama are some truly western homes, schools, churches and communities.
Yokohama’s Minato Mirai area has a very similar feel to Chicago’s downtown to me — it is an open area along the waterfront full of towering skyscrapers, renovated districts for shopping, museums and attractions as well as tons of restaurants and dining. But if you move further away from there, you are greeted by a densely populated urban sprawl resembling many other parts of Japan. The city layout is in a more typical grid layout found in cities around the world.
This week’s episode of Life in Japan is focused on the city of Yokohama. There is so much in a city of this size that it’s just impossible to cover it all in one episode, let alone hundreds of episodes. But we hit some of the highlights on our family trip and I can’t get over how much it reminds me of Chicago! Please enjoy!
Chicago’s Sister City?
Officially Chicago’s sister city is Osaka, Japan, and I think that’s a good fit. But to me Yokohama is just as good of a fit, if not better. But that may be for personal reasons. You see, I went to college near Chicago, and the impressive city was just next door to me (about the same distance as Yokohama is to us in Kawasaki now). But I rarely went into downtown Chicago itself. It’s not that I didn’t like it or that it wasn’t fun — I liked it a lot and it was always fun! I just didn’t realize the uniqueness of what was right next to me until I lost it. Once I moved away, I found myself wishing I had taken more advantage of the fact that I lived right next to Chicago.
Too often we fantasize about what is out of reach instead of enjoying what is within our grasp. We dream about a life somewhere else (maybe you dream of a life in Japan!). We imagine what life would be like if we had a different family or other relationships. We can too easily overlook the huge blessings God has put in our lives, within our reach.
Yokohama could easily be that way here too. Especially in the Greater Tokyo area, there are so many amazing places to go and things to see that one could easily overlook that which is right under your nose. The pandemic has forced us to look locally for our fun, and that’s no bad thing, especially when there are amazing places like Yokohama right next to us.
What’s right next to you? Are you overlooking something that you may regret later? It may be a relationship. It could be a different way of life that is richer and more satisfying. Yes, it’s good to imagine a better life and make proactive steps towards it. But happiness is not found when you reach that location, but in healthy journey that gets you there. And in the weeks to come, we want to look more into what makes a healthy life journey.
Japan is not a small country as far as size goes, but when you factor in its relatively large population and the fact that most of the geography of the country is mountains and valleys, you are left with an interesting conundrum. How do you fit all of those people in a relatively small inhabitable area? Dealing with these factors in the way that the Japanese have dealt with them over the years defines what Japan is today.
Everything is compact in Japan because it needs to be compact. Everything is smaller than in Western counterparts. Homes, offices, roads, parks, stores and the list goes on. But no where else is that as plain obvious then when you compare Japanese furniture stores to Western ones. Beds are smaller. Couches and seating are on the floor. There are aisles of space saving contraptions. Everything is purposeful, stylish and practical.
Compare that to any Western furniture store (say IKEA) and you see the differences. Furniture is still stylish, but it is large and inexpensive. You can save a bundle if you don’t mind putting it together yourself. And that’s where the differences start. Both kinds of stores are useful and nice, but both are very different. It’s time to explore the unique world of Japanese furniture stores.
Not far from the bustling metropolis of Tokyo in nearby Chiba lies a village with a very interesting identity: it is Tokyo’s German Village. It’s been on our list of things to try in Japan for a while, so when we got a few days off as a family over the holiday break, we knew right where to go.
It’s always fun to see another country interpreted through some other culture’s eyes. That’s one of the reasons why people enjoy watching Life in Japan, they get to see Japan through our perspective as foreigners. So seeing Japan’s take on Germany seemed especially interesting to us.
Although we could easily do it as a day trip (it’s only an hour and a half by car from our home), we decided to book a cheap hotel to act as our home base and do some extra exploring around us. It turned out to be a great call, as we stumbled upon some really fun and unique places, including the the longest slide I’ve seen or done anywhere!
So what was the verdict? Did Tokyo’s German Village seem authentic? I feel like I am partially qualified to answer, since my last name is German (even though my ancestors are Swiss) and I’ve been to Germany before. For the full verdict, you need to watch the video to the end, but suffice it to say if felt more Japanese than German, and that’s not a bad thing. It was a fun mash-up of the two cultures (more, if you count our culture!) It was definitely worth the trip.