Discovering History + Remembering the Fallen in Saipan

AmericanMemorialParkSaipan1

One of the most important aspects of visiting a new place is learning about its history. While visiting Saipan, we had an opportunity to explore a part of our own history, as well as the history of the island’s native people and of the Japanese. It was an experience we didn’t expect to have but are so glad we took the time to look into.

Craig and I admittedly knew next to nothing about Saipan before booking our trip there. Located in the Northern Mariana Islands, Saipan is less than 50 square miles in size. If you look it up on a map, its neighbors are other small islands, including Guam, along with the Pacific Ocean and Philippine Sea. If isolation isn’t your thing, avoid Googling.

Saipan played a crucial role in World War II by becoming the battleground for American and Japanese forces in June and July of 1944. This pivotal clash was a turning point in the war that resulted in the loss of more than 40,000 soldiers and civilians. Due to the high number of civilian deaths, some estimates have even pegged the total exceeding 50,000.

We learned more about the Battle of Saipan by visiting the American Memorial Park in Garapan, which honors the Americans and natives of the island who lost their lives in the battle. The beautiful and spacious grounds include a Flag Circle engraved with the names of the deceased and a museum with artifacts from the war. What we appreciated most about the museum was how it presented both sides of the conflict — both the American and Japanese perspective — to help visitors fully understand the events that transpired.

Upon returning to Japan, we learned I have relatives who were stationed on Saipan during the war, which made the experience much more significant to me. With a brother-in-law who is also a veteran, I’ll never pass up the chance to honor their sacrifice and take a moment to consider the freedoms I enjoy because of it. Taking the time to learn the story of somewhere you visit can only deepen your appreciation for the people you meet there and the welcome reception you receive.

AmericanMemorialParkSaipan2

AmericanMemorialParkSaipan3

AmericanMemorialParkSaipan4

AmericanMemorialParkSaipan5

AmericanMemorialParkSaipan6

AmericanMemorialParkSaipan7

AmericanMemorialParkSaipan8

signature

Weekly Web Tacks

WebTacks072915

Getting back to work after a trip is always hard, but after our technology-free adventure, I feel especially behind. It’s time to break out of vacation mode and get back to planning, because we have a lot going on. Craig and I will be packing up again to head out to Kobe for an interview I have to do and then in less than a month (Yay!) my mother-in-law will be arriving for her visit.

Lots on the calendar but lots of great web tacks this week. Happy reading!

  1. So glad I found a recipe for my hands-down favorite dish from Saipan, tuna poke. [Food Network]
  2. A great piece on the common practice of “self-fashioning.” [The Atlantic]
  3. I love spending on “experiences” but this writer’s advice is pretty valuable. [Refinery29]
  4. Could ice cream roll-ups be the new food craze? [Gothamist]
  5. The latest celeb to take on capturing the resurgence of Detroit is not who you expect. [The Washington Post]
  6. The story behind one of my favorite things about public transportation in Japan. [Japan Info]
  7. In love with this eclectic, small apartment makeover. [GOOP]
  8. Hard to believe tech-loving Tokyo didn’t top this list. [Japan Times]
signature

6 Happy Sights from Saipan

SaipanSights4

As I mentioned yesterday, our trip to Saipan was unexpected, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have a great time. It was surprisingly comforting to be in a U.S. commonwealth and a relief to be able to speak English and pay in dollars after a stressful traveling experience.

Due to America’s presence in Saipan since World War II (more on that tomorrow), we found no shortage of western dishes to enjoy. At the same time, a native culture is alive and well. Here are six of my favorite sights from Saipan, starting with that delicious plate of barbecue we feasted on during our last night at Kanoa Resort. Enjoy!

Not a bad place to spend your days. I certainly do miss our lazy afternoons on the beach reading.

Not a bad place to spend your days. I certainly do miss our lazy afternoons on the beach reading.

My wedding reception shoes. I plan to bring them on every anniversary trip.

My wedding reception shoes. I plan to bring them on every anniversary trip.

The amazing performers showing off their Samoan fire dancing skills.

The amazing performers showing off their Samoan fire dancing skills.

My golf-loving husband was delighted to teach me some things on the putt-putt course.

My golf-loving husband was delighted to teach me some things on the putt-putt course.

Every sunset in Saipan was spectacular. It was hard to pick a favorite shot, but this one is pretty incredible.

Every sunset in Saipan was spectacular. It was hard to pick a favorite shot, but this one is pretty incredible.

signature

An Expected Adventure in Saipan

SaipanAdventure

When it comes to travel, Craig and I have had relatively few hiccups on our adventures. We pride ourselves on being fanatical, type-A planners and it’s paid off. We’ve had more issues –delays, lost luggage, etc. — traveling domestically than internationally.

Sooner or later, that luck was bound to run out. Sure enough, it did one week ago when we were informed at the check-in gate our trip to Vietnam wasn’t happening. A misunderstanding about visa requirements — you need a signed letter from the embassy to pick one up when you land — forced us to change course to save our trip meant to mark our second wedding anniversary.

I like to think of myself as someone who knows how to problem solve and think on her feet. Years of living in strange big cities have taught me to take a step back, exhale and find a solution. But I admittedly was ready to throw in the towel pretty quick once we heard the letter couldn’t be rushed. Craig, on the other hand, fueled by the tears of his wife who straight-up lost it after an hour on the phone with Expedia, refused to completely cancel our adventure. “We’re going somewhere,” he told me and marched over to a Delta agent. When we came back, he suggested Saipan, in the Mariana Islands, and within 20 minutes we had a flight and hotel booked to an island neighboring Guam we knew little about, accept that the pictures were gorgeous and it was a U.S. commonwealth, so no visa was needed. Done.

Sometimes you have to make lemons out of lemonade and this is exactly what this trip became. Once we landed, we learned a typhoon had wiped out the island’s Internet, which meant a week of unexpected inactivity on this space and calling for some long-distance favors from my dad to set email away messages and contact editors. We also ended up with money we couldn’t exchange.

But the trip reminded us of something two tech-obsessed journalists can easily forget: To unplug and live in the moment. We had each other and that was all that mattered. You don’t need Instagram to prove a view was gorgeous or your food was delicious. Be sure to check back tomorrow for a special Saipan edition of “6 Happy Sights” for some of those great moments from our trip.

So, when life finally dishes out your dose of lemons, make lemonade — hell, with vodka, if you can — and make it an adventure. You won’t regret it.

signature

Tokyo Restaurant Roundup: Dessert Spots

HenriCharpentier

I’m a big dessert person. Like a pick-it-out-before-the-meal-starts dessert person. Thankfully, most desserts in Japan are adorably small, which means I can enjoy them without too much guilt — as if I feel that anyway. Everything in moderation, right? That’s why I decided to round up five of my favorite dessert spots here in Tokyo that I do my best not to go to too much.

Henri Charpentier
Various Locations

I had to begin this list with the cheesecake to end all cheesecakes. My husband’s favorite dessert is cheesecake and while I was never against it, it was never my first dessert choice. That is, until I tried the two-layer cheesecake from Henri Charpentier. It’s my go-to hostess and special occasion treat. Covered in a tasty crumble and flecks of gold leaf (<– yup), the delicious finishing touch is a drizzle of sweet honey.

GelateriaMarghera

Gelateria Marghera
2-5-1 1F Azabu-juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo and 1-5-5 Atre Ebisu 3F, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

You can’t go wrong with gelato. I remember the first time I had really good gelato in Boston’s Little Italy and if given the option between regular ice cream and gelato, I go gelato every time. This Tokyo outpost of gelateria from Milan has all the traditional flavors like pistachio and stracciatella as well as a variety of other desserts you can take to go.

iBeerLeSunPalm

iBeer Le Sun Palm
Shibuya Hikarie 7F, 2-21-1 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku

So, crème brûlée is my all-time favorite dessert. It’s just so fancy and has just the right amount of sweet. Craig and I have a rule we always order the crème brûlée if it’s on the menu when we go out to eat. When we went to iBeer Le Sun Palm, we thought all we would have was beer until we spotted this ice cream-topped version and damn, the mix of the warm burnt sugar and the cool ice cream. The game done changed.

Dalloyau

Dalloyau
Various Locations

Parfaits in Japan are like nothing I’ve ever had before. They combine all sorts of desserts into towers of sweet amazingness and this one from Dalloyau is one of my favorites. My sister and I went there during her visit and gobbled down this macaron-topped delight in no time at all. They’re technically big enough to share but I can say it wouldn’t be too hard to finish it yourself.

MagnoliaBakery

Magnolia Bakery
5-10-1 GYRE B1F, Jingumae Shibuya-ku

OK, I know this place isn’t unique to Tokyo, but I can’t pass up a taste of New York, my favorite city on the entire planet. If there isn’t a line I’m happy to stop in for one of their classic vanilla cupcakes with buttercream frosting. It may be a bit of a tourist trap, but I never regret it.

signature

My Favorite Japanese Gifts to Give

JapaneseGiftsMain

The silk scarf you see above was given to me by the women in the conversational English class I lead once a month. It’s such a beautiful gift and showcases an aspect of Japanese culture that’s made me try harder to bring our friends and loved ones back authentic pieces of Japan.

We’ve found some wonderful places to pick up gifts in the past year and a half. Japan is a country full of artists and artisans and giving gifts is an important part of the culture. Here are my five go-to types of gifts to bring back from Japan. They make amazing souvenirs, too.

  1. Chopsticks: Such a simple gift but there are so many gorgeous versions here made from different materials — even dishwasher safe –and at a range of prices. We’ve bought several sets from Ginza Natsuno.
  2. Lacquerware: True lacquerware has an incredible look and texture and can be quite expensive. But a small bowl or plate makes a great keepsake and will typically run you between 3,000 and 5,000 yen.
  3. Sweets: Japanese desserts and sweets are very different from western items, using ingredients like beans and matcha. They’re just less saccharine overall. Bringing sweets is a common practice here, so gift sets to suit all tastes and budgets are everywhere.
  4. Beauty Products: Asian beauty products are in a league all their own. While I’m not usually a fan of giving something more personal like a scent, a treatment someone can use to pamper themselves is a nice treat — just be sure to find a translation for the instructions! I recently gifted some of the women in my life a bottle of my favorite Japanese skincare product.
  5. Fabrics: We’ve brought back small pouches as well as a gorgeous mobile from Kyoto, which is home to some of the beautiful fabrics in the country. You can also find wall hangings in a range of sizes and prices.
signature

Weekly Web Tacks

WebTacks071615

This week is flying by and I’m just trying to keep my head on straight. I had a wonderful time meeting up with my fellow senpai (advisor) from Deep Japan and tonight I’m attending my first meeting for For Empowering Women (FEW). I’ve met so many wonderful people here by learning to put myself out there and I look forward to making some new connections tonight.

Be sure to check back later today when I share my favorite gifts to bring to friends and family from Japan. For now, enjoy my web tacks for the week!

  1. I can certainly relate to how living in Japan has changed how I talk. Especially No. 3. [Ampers & Ampers]
  2. More love for Japanese bathrooms. [The Huffington Post]
  3. Internet addiction is spreading. [The New York Times]
  4. Japan’s customer service is second to none, but that’s not always good for business. [Bloomberg]
  5. This week, the president and CEO of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, passed away and fans released some touching tributes. [TIME]
  6. A look at Detroit’s vibrant art scene. [The New York Times]
  7. Adding these restaurants to my list. No. 4 in particular. [cupcakes and cashmere]
  8. The product I can’t live without this summer so I don’t look like a frizzy rat.
signature

6 Happy Sights

BigWeekSights3

I’m still on cloud nine after a pretty epic week last week. But now it’s time to get back down to business. We leave for Vietnam in one week and I have a lot of projects to wrap up before we head off for vacation. I’ve got a regular week of content scheduled for while we’re gone and then will have plenty to share when we get back.

My happy sights for the week kick off with one seriously kawaii (cute) car rolling through Chiyoda yesterday. They even stopped so we could snap a pic, because of course. Have a great one!

A wonderfully bright painting of Mt. Fuji in Tokyo Station. Our brave friend Stefano scaled that bad boy this weekend.

A wonderfully bright painting of Mt. Fuji in Tokyo Station. Our brave friend Stefano scaled that bad boy this weekend.

The square watermelons are real, y'all.

The square watermelons are real, y’all.

The sure sign of a good time --  the izakaya lantern.

The sure sign of a good time — the izakaya lantern.

The spicy pickles I can't stop snacking on. Better than chips, right?

The spicy pickles I can’t stop snacking on. Better than chips, right?

Simple grocery store flowers to brighten up our home during all that rain.

Simple grocery store flowers to brighten up our home during all that rain.

signature

Weekly Web Tacks

WebTacks070915

The weather in Tokyo right now is GLOOMY. No other way to describe it. It seems like it’s been rainy forever and the humidity is creeping dangerously close to 100 percent. It’s officially summer, which is why I’m counting down the days to our next adventure, coming up in about a week and a half. Drumroll please . . . we’re going to Vietnam!

I can’t wait to share pics and recommendations from our trip. For now, enjoy my web tacks for the week, kicking off with an inside look at a popular activity in Taiwan:

  1. We saw betel nut shops everywhere in Taiwan, staffed by “betel beauties.”
  2. Anyone who has ever read the subway in New York City will agree with this assessment. [Man Repeller]
  3. You know how much I love, love Kyoto and a major U.S. magazine agrees. [The Japan Times]
  4. My husband and I are definitely guilty of not unplugging when on vacation. [Poynter]
  5. I get asked this question about Japanese women all the time. [GaijinPot]
  6. I still can’t get over the pantyhose in summer (or at all) in Japan. [The Japan News]
  7. Do you use Facebook as a source of news? [Fortune]
  8. In case you missed it, here is my first blog post for WSJ Expat!
signature

A Patriot Abroad

APatriotAbroad

This past weekend, Craig and I joined some friends (one of which is also an American) for some delicious barbecue and craft beer to toast Independence Day. It seemed many of our fellow Americans living abroad had the same idea — the restaurant was bursting with English.

One of the most important lessons living abroad has taught me is to put my home country in perspective. What I mean by that is remembering the bigger picture and learning to appreciate the differences that make each country unique. I’ve always been proud to be an American — and always will be — but having a greater, a wider view on the world in which I live can only help me be a better citizen of that world.

I do my best to represent America well to all people I meet here in Japan and when we travel. Stereotypes abound and no culture is free of them. By conducting myself in a respectful fashion, as someone open to learning and growing, I believe I’m doing my part and not taking this experience for granted.

I certainly missed being on a lake back in Michigan, but we had no shortage of fun (or food and drink). I hope you had a wonderful holiday weekend celebrating with friends and family. Happy 239th birthday, USA!

signature