29 January 2011

Music in the tub!

     We had a bit of a flashback on the whole Bath Unit issue recently. Not that we decided to make any major changes or anything, but we just wanted to add speakers.  This is to accommodate the wishes of our daughter to listen to music or stories while she takes leisurely baths lasting on average a couple of hours...

     Inax bath units come with many different options, one of them speakers, and another a small TV. We rejected the TV right off the bat, knowing that a TV would mean that whoever entered the bath would never come out... But being able to listen to your favorite music while enjoying a nice soak, sounds really appealing.

     The set up involves 2 speakers fixed onto the ceiling and a connector box to plug in your IPod or MP3 player. This box contains the amplifier, ensuring good quality of sound.

     We asked our architect to add this item to our Inax Unit Bath but were a bit surprised when he told us that this option isn't actually offered for the smaller bath unit we selected. Inax could still install it for us, but since they haven't tested it in this unit size, they can't guarantee the quality of sound. We were told that when operating the system, there might be some noise from the adjacent ventilation unit. Mmm... We'll think about this!

     There are various alternatives to this set-up but these are probably not comparable in terms of quality of sound. Here are some of the most popular models of iPod/Mp3 protectors for use in the shower/bath.

     Pomme, Aquabourne, Aquapod... They look sturdy enough. And ultimately, if our sound system fails, we'll have to resort to one of these!

     And here's a pretty smart-looking one: the iPod/MP3 Shower Docking Station, which is also equipped with a digital clock, in case you want to keep track of time in the tub...

26 January 2011

Cool Gadgets

     A while back we made up our mind we were going to get a Panasonic IH stove with three hobs, one of them all-metal.  This means we don't need to invest in new cookware, except maybe for our stovetop espresso maker, which isn't the right size.  But the downside of this model is that it comes with a fan for the grill, and I just know that it'll be hard to keep it clean.

     Luckily, there are some really smart devices that can help solve some of our kitchen miseries, like this Glass Exhaust Vent Cover (ガラスの排気口カバー) for instance, which I didn't even know existed!  

     This looks like just what we need to keep that area of the stove sparkling clean. Plus, it can easily be removed for washing and it does look nice! Pretty sure we're going to invest in one of these!

    While visiting showrooms over the past few months, we saw a bunch of cool gadgets we thought would be nice to have like this IH cooktop mat. 

     These mats help protect the surface of the IH stove which apparently gets stained over time (didn't know that!).   I googled "Induction Cooktop Mat" to see if I could get more information, but got far more results with IH 焼け焦げカバーマット, which is what this device is called in Japanese.  Could it be that this kind of mat is not used much outside of Japan?

     To clean the inevitable spills, especially if you're a first-time user of induction cooktops, there is a whole range of cleaning products.  This one here was featured in my COOP advertisement this week.

      There are several other types of IH cooktop cleaners available on Amazon Japan, which, by the way, come with English labels, likeVita Craft.  Google "IHガラストップクリーナー" and you'll find a lot more cleaning options.

    And how about this IH Stovetop Frame Cover?  I worry that all kinds of food remnants will get stuck between the counter and the stovetop, so this might be a good way to keep that area spotless. 

     It never fails to amaze me how Japan develops unique gadgets to solve all sorts of daily annoyances.  While some may seem completely useless, others are quite innovative and lifesaving! 

We'll be on the lookout for other cool gadgets but if you know of any that's worked for you, let us know!

25 January 2011

Diving in Tokyo

     One thing we love about Tokyo is that we never run out of things to do or to discover.  Of course, some things are a bit harder to get, like a diving pool, but a bit of research and persistence will always bring results.  Especially if you don't mind traveling. 

     This is how Naira got to jump from a 5 meter springboard in an impressive Olympic-size pool in Eastern Tokyo.  What an experience, especially for me who was watching from the bleachers, and not actually doing any jumping...  For one thing, the pool is stunning, in size and for its view onto Tokyo Bay especially at nigthfall. 

     Since my daughter likes swimming and snorkeling, I thought it might be nice for her to try diving.  The problem is that local pools are not equipped with springboards and diving classes are hard to come by.  An Internet search led me to Tokyo International Swimming Center located in Koto-ku.  That's more than an hour away from home, but that's a pretty average distance in Tokyo!   

The center offers an Introduction to Diving program every year comprising of eight 2-hour sessions.  I thought the classes were only open to kids, but actually adults can join too, and there is no restriction in physical ability or experience. Basically, anyone over 3rd grade of elementary who's brave enough to jump can join. 

Classes begin and end with stretching and the rest of the time in between is for jumping.  I'm not sure there is any formal instruction given, just tips here and there.  Basically you just try to do your best not to hit the water flat on your stomach...  This was so exciting to watch and according to my kid, it was a blast, even though her body ached for days after each session...  Highly recommended!

18 January 2011

Windows, Glass and Mosquito Nets

     Again on the subject of windows...  Never thought we would labor so much on any one step during this whole process.  So far, windows have been giving us a lot to consider.
     One of the things we decided from early on is that we would have French windows.  These are called 格子入複層ガラス in Japanese (don't know the reading) and they look like this  catalog picture. 

        There are various different styles of French windows, and our architect suggested we get the WA02, a choice we agreed with.  We've seen many houses using these types of windows and we love them.  We also had to think about the business of mosquito nets and glass type. 

     As for type of windows, we opted for a mix of up-down windows and vertical pivoted windows that allow for a rolling mosquito net.  This sort of net can be pulled out and tucked in, so it is never on display.    For rolling nets, we chose clear nets, which are way nicer than the normal, darker type.   The difference is quite stunning!

      To comply with regulations, the glass on some of our windows will need to have special wire mesh for fire protection.  Obviously, we weren't thrilled with the look of regular wire meshed glass.  There's another type of protective glass where the wire mesh is invisible, and this would have been a great choice even despite the higher price tag, but we had to forget about it because it's not available for French windows...

     Anyhow, we are still checking each and every window to make sure it is the proper width, height, position, depth, type, etc...  Lots of work ahead still but we're nearing the finish line, at least on that front!

14 January 2011

Andean Music Concert

     Still on the subject on Family Entertainment, I thought I would share a bit of news about an upcoming concert of music from the Andes. 

     In his spare time, Efrain likes to play music.  It's been a hobby of his for most of his life...  Music is very much a part of his home country, Bolivia, where everyone learns to play one instrument or another and all social events bring out the best of all musicians out in the countryside.

     Grandpa taught him the basics and he learned the rest on his own, out of passion: Quena, Zampona, Guitar, Charango, and Singing.  Once in a while he'll have a show and we like to come and cheer as a family, even though the kids sometimes find it difficult to sit quietly through 3 hours of music...  But they love the cheering part and going backstage 'to help' pack up the instruments after the shows. 

     The great thing about these events is that we not only get to enjoy hours of great fun and relaxation listening to Andean music, but we also get to visit a new hall each time. The last concert by Los Awkis took us to Katsushika Symphony Hills, in Eastern Tokyo. His next show will be right in our neighborhood, at the Mitaka City Arts Center (三鷹市芸術文化センター).  We hope you'll enjoy the rhythms of the Andes!

11 January 2011

Forms and Hankos

        We needed to bring our respective personal seals (Hanko) to our meeting last weekend to fill out a bunch of forms in view of our upcoming inspection. 

        One form is the Kakunin Shinseisho ( 確認申請書), our Inspection Application which will be submitted along with a folder containing detailed plans, information on the land, and other required documents.  We also filled out the Kenchiku Koji Touroku (建築工事届), a Report to the Government that we will be building.  The last document we signed was the "Ininjo" (委任所)  giving permission to Two Style to apply for Inspection on our behalf.

        We need the Inspector's consent before we can start construction and we're keen on getting this approval quickly so we can start building soon.  But getting this approval may take anywhere between 2 weeks to 1 month.  Meanwhile, we'll need to fine-tuned the details of our contract, which needs to be signed in order to start construction.

        While we're on the subject of filling out official forms, here's a bit of information we picked up along the way about personal seals.  To be used as Official Hanko, your seal needs to be certified by the city you live in.  This implies a trip to City Hall, filling out a form, and getting a little card plus a certificate.  Copies of Hanko Registration Certificates are requested when you need to "sign" official documents, like bank loans.

        Until a few years ago, you could choose your favorite Hanko bearing your name in either Hitagana, Katakana, Kanji or Romaji for official documents in Musashino-shi, where we currently live.  But the policy has changed, and the hanko that you wish to get registered must now bear your name exactly as it is featured on your Alien Registration Card.  So for most of us foreigners, this means getting a hanko in Roman Letters.  Forget about getting a cool Kanji translation of your name...  Also, if you change cities, as we're about to do, you need to re-register your hanko at the ward office.

9 January 2011

Digging for ruins

      We were surprised to find a car parked on our land a couple weeks back, so our boy decided to take the matter into his own hands.  He had me print out two copies of a message intended to discourage people from parking on "his" property. 

     The sign says:"ここで止まらないでください” (Please do not park here).  We went on over to our property and he personally taped the signs onto each wall.  We went back to our land this week-end and sure enough, the signs were doing a good job of keeping daring drivers from using our property as private parking space. 

     Instead of a car, however, we found a digging crane and the land had been somewhat cleaned up.  Last week, the city of Mitaka performed a search on our property to find out whether important cultural ruins could be found.  Apparently, a small fragment of some kind of important object turned up, so next week, they'll be doing some more digging, right under what will be our wood deck.   Yani decided to check out the crane...  Oh, and we've been told that whatever the city digs up from under our property will not belong to us...  Chucks! 

3 January 2011

Outdoor Skating

     After a few days of feasting and relaxing, we thought it would do us some good to exercise a little.  On January 1st, we gathered our skates and hit the Akasaka Sacas Outdoor Skating Rink.  The rink is conveniently located at Akasaka Station, just up the stairs and amid beautiful illuminations.   The rink has apparently increased in size this year and is now the largest outdoor skating rink in the city.

     The last time we went ice skating outdoors in Tokyo was way back when we were just a couple...  This time, we never even got to hold hands, as we needed to check the kids, make sure they didn't hit rough spots; they know how to skate, but they haven't yet mastered the art of stopping!  When we first started skating the rink was full of snow so part of the fun was throwing snowballs at each other.  But then, the "Zamboni" came on and cleaned the ice leaving it perfectly shiny.  What a joy to skate on freshly-cleaned ice!

     With the kids, we've been to every other rink in and around the city, from Citizen in Takadanobaba, to Meiji Jingu in Sendagaya and even the Higashi-Fushimi Arena (ダイドードリンコアイスアリーナ) close to our home.  We also went to Toshimaen Skating Rink, which used to be amazing - huge rink, great music,wonderful scenery - but has downgraded so much over the years that we feel it isn't worth the trip anymore.

     Anyway, no matter what size the rink, Nighttime Outdoor Skating is definitely the best!  Hours and times vary at Akasaka Sacas, so it's wise to check their website before heading on there.  If you have your own skates, the price is ¥1,000 for adults and ¥500 for students.  Skate rental is an extra ¥500. Bring gloves or you may have to buy them!  This year, the rink will be open until February 14, 2011.  

And by the way, if you're looking to fuel up before sliding, Akasaka Biz Tower has loads of great restaurants.  We went to Dragon Deli, which was one of the few diners open on New year's Day.  It was just delicious!  What a great First Day of the Year!
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