My Tokyo Family

I had only been in Tokyo a few hours before I understood why people love it.flags

When you are in a place that is this polite and kind and clean and safe, you have a lot of emotional space for indulging yourself in a rich and unusual culture.  And no matter how I present myself, everyone I have come across in Japan treats me like I am special.

IMG_0195Tokyo is a lot of mosts. It is the most populous metropolitan area in the world and the most expensive city in the world.  Travelers rank it Number One city in the world in the categories of “overall experience,” most helpful locals, cleanest streets, best nightlife, best shopping and best public transportation.  It has the most Michelin stars and, as I personally experienced, the most bows from a cab driver.


This photo has a little bit of everything. The Sky tree on the left is the world’s tallest free standing tower. The gold thing is the “Asahi flame” atop the beer company’s headquarters.

But the best part for me was spending time with my extended family.

On my first day in town, I had lunch with Elizabeth, daughter of my wonderful friend and former CPUC colleague, Christine.

elizElizabeth moved to Japan about ten years ago to teach English. She met and married the love of her life, Aiji, and now they have two children. Although I always thought of her as American as apple pie, Elizabeth has taken on some endearing Japanese customs, including those that make her the perfect host.  She brought me special books about Japan, treated me to a fantastic lunch, brought me special vegan snacks for food emergencies, taught me how to navigate the Tokyo subway system, and tried to give me her warm scarf.


Elizabeth has some pretty funny stories about her multicultural family.  She and Aiji speak only English at home so the children will be bilingual, but 2 year old Kogetsu is resisting in favor of Japanese.  Five year old Tora has had to advise his mother about how to pack the box that holds his extra clothes for school.  She had, in her American way, just folded things without due regard for how they were to be organized.IMG_0187

Then last night, I had dinner with Kazuo, Motomi and Utah, who became part of our family when their daughter Miho married nephew Scott last year. Kazuo and Motomi work as accountants in Tokyo. Motomi is also a painter. Kazuo is a competitive swimmer, and coaches a disabled swim team. Both are learning English. (Where do they find the time?)  Utah, Miho’s brother, is at Tokyo University where he will be awarded a doctorate next year in physics.  At dinner, Utah spoke three languages — Japanese, English and Physics in English for Non-scientists (I love quantum mechanics even though what I know about it can be expressed in less than one sentence). I also got to see the photos from Miho and Scott’s Japanese wedding ceremony.DSCN1477



After dinner, we walked to a shrine (which Kazuo explained differs from a temple because it has a “torii” or gate to mark the separation of the sacred and the profane).  At the alter, we each made offerings of special coins, then bowed twice, rang the bell, clapped twice and bowed once more.

DSCN1481It was wonderful to share this special ritual with my new Japanese family and a lovely way to end our evening together.

I was sad to leave them at the subway station and I hope to see them again when they come to the US in September to visit their first grandchild.


I saw this poster at a Georgetown shopping mall. I am not sure that is a goat. Isn’t it a sheep? Anyway, Gung Hay Fat Choy.



  1. I have wanted to visit Tokyo ever since seeing ‘Lost in Translation’ – this post makes me want to go even more! Lovely to see Elizabeth looking so happy and beautiful, as ever

  2. To give you some idea of how civilized Japan is, in spite of its adulation of technology, no one (including teenagers) talks on the phone in public and the subway system announces APOLOGIES in real time if it is more than a few minutes late.

  3. Janet and I “second” all of those sentiments! And imagine how much we enjoyed Tokyo as a three-day weekend escape from the deprivations on Saipan where we lived in the early 1980s! it was only 2 & a half hours away by plane but a world away culturally. And those bathhouses were “to die for!”

  4. What a delightful trip, Kim, and what fun to see Elizabeth! Great photos, as always! What’s in the boxes with green ribbons?

  5. My travels in Japan did more to open my eyes to my own culture than any other land I have visited. It is truly unique and we could learn much about living with one another in harmony.

    BTW, it’s a goat,… but don’t worry- this actually is the Year of the Ruminant including both sheep and goats.

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