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AmyBB25 is doing 24 things including…

describe things I love about Japan

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AmyBB25 has written 16 entries about this goal

I joked about it

I joked about how we were going to miss vending machines once we got back to the States. But I didn’t realize how true it would be until we actually got here. When you walk out of anywhere in Japan…a grocery, a dry cleaner, a bakery, a temple, a train car, the park, a restaurant, even a school…there is almost always a vending machine. If you are a little dry or in need of a pick-me-up, you can count on finding a machine at every turn. I think, too, that it might be yet another way Japanese people stay so slim and healthy. Their vending machines, while they do have Coke, are also stocked with coffee, water, juice and green and oolong tea. And when you think you need something, you just slip your coins into a vending machine and come out with some tea instead of, you know, a Twinkie or some chips. Yet, the only vending machine I can think of near this apartment right now is full of Coke. Coke, diet Coke, Coke Zero…
And I really needed one the other day! But I wanted tea or water not Coke…

Anyway, we snapped this picture from a train car a few weeks ago because Sophie was so in love with these ice cream machines. There is a park in Utsunomiya with an ice cream vending machine right in the middle of the park so as you sit and gaze over the calm pond with koi bubbling below and swans swanning gracefully… you can also lick your ice cream cone.

Ah, the things we take for granted.



Random acts of Japan

That’s what Todd has decided to call the many moments of thoughtfulness we experience in this country. The Japanese people will always be synonymous in my mind with kindness and thoughtfulness. So many people really seem to think beyond themselves and to see the immediate needs of others.

First story: The evening the taxi dropped us off at home when we returned from Tokyo Disney, we stepped out of the car and were greeted by the joyful neighbor family. I was so happy to see them, their smiling faces and happy waves. So happy, I guess, that I left the backpack in the back of the taxi. The backpack contained my wallet, our passports, camera and all the other necessities we’d been keeping close at hand there.
All those things rode off in the taxi and I didn’t even notice they were missing until after I’d showered and was catching up on 43things. Todd and I searched for the backpack and determined we’d left it in the cab. I wasn’t a bit worried but just kept reading and cheering and posting away on 43t. The Japanese are notoriously honest as well as helpful and I knew our things would be ok. Todd called our support person at Honda and she called the taxi company we’d used to get to the station 3 days before. A driver for the company said we hadn’t taken his taxi home but said he saw us get into the car of another company. Keiko called the other company and they brought our backpack to our house, still safe in the backseat. Todd tried to pay him the fare for getting to our house but they wouldn’t accept it. Keiko said she figured as much.

Second story: On the way home from China Sunday, we decided we’d like to stop in Ueno and have lunch. So we went to a storage locker in the station and stuffed all our luggage in, hoping to get suitcases, backpacks and duffel bags in one 600 yen locker. As we worked on it, a station attendant came up and starting telling us, in Japanese, of course, how best to do it. He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a 500 yen coin, got change from the machine and put the first 100 yen in the locker, talking the whole time. I put the rest of the yen in and then tried to hand him a coin to pay him back. He waved me away: “Service,” he insisted.

As we came out of the restaurant later it was raining harder and Sophie and I huddled together at the crosswalk, waiting on the light. A man next to us noticed and reached out to hold his umbrella over us. I smiled in thanks. Halfway along the crosswalk, he forced the umbrella into my hand and, saying something about going to the train station, he ran ahead. I called out, “No! We’re going to the station too!” but he was gone.
He gave us his umbrella.
Yes, we were back in Japan…and why would I ever want to leave?



Amazing Japanese moments

Yesterday morning, as I cleaned a little and Will waited for the bus, the doorbell rang. It was Tamura-sensei, one of the English teachers from Sophie’s school. She started out by assuring me that Sophie was fine but that she had bumped her head and the teachers thought I should come pick her up as soon as possible and maybe go to a doctor. They had already called my sensei who was on her way to my house for class anyway and happened to walk up the street at just that moment. Tamura-sensei said she’d tried to call me but I didn’t answer (sure enough, my phone was dead) and so, since we live so close, she’d volunteered to ride her bike down and let me know what was going on in person. Japanese amazing #1.

So after we put Will on the bus, we drove up to the school and headed straight to the nurse’s office. Sophie cried a little when she saw me and seemed more upset that her headband had gotten blood on it than that she was bleeding! The nurse insisted on going with us to the hospital (Japanese amazing #2) and the principal walked us out, overseeing our backing out of the parking lot. (#3?)

At the neurological hospital we waited only minutes (the nurse had called ahead – #4) before they decided to give Sophie a CT scan and then taped her cut shut. She also had a pretty good blueish-green bump on her head. She was most afraid of getting stitches and noticeably relaxed once she found out she wouldn’t be getting any…though she jumped seemingly fearlessly onto the stretcher for the CT…

The funny part came when she wanted to go back to school. The school nurse wanted her to stay home and I think the doctor would have gone along with that but Sophie really wanted to return to school because of the good lunch they were to have yesterday: corn soup. Everyone laughed at that.

When we returned Sophie to school, her classroom teacher and Chyoko-sensei and Tamura-sensei came to meet her, all visibly relieved that she was fine. Another teacher followed us out, on her way to do something about the rope swing where Sophie’d gotten hurt. I can’t count the amazings anymore…

Epilogue: I got an email from my sensei this morning that said she’d be coming to my house about 3pm today because the principal and the student with whom Sophie was playing when she got hurt, and her mother wanted to come apologize to me for what happened. This is beyond counting. I don’t even know what to say anymore. I am embarrassed and nervous about this event because I don’t feel it warrants an apology. Kids play and sometimes they get hurt and I don’t think it was anyone’s fault. The amazing continues, though…
the Japanese are always thinking of others and considering their feelings, always aware of how their actions affect others.

I just hope I don’t cry. My emotions are at a peak right now as it is for many reasons and to be witness yet again to the kindness of the Japanese might put me over the edge…



hello hello

So we saw Wicked in the Shiki Theater in Tokyo this past weekend. I’ve never seen the production in English, but now realize I must. It was rather like seeing an opera when you can’t speak Italian. You don’t understand every little word but you can certainly tell when the character is happy or sad or funny…

At the end, I cried a little. I cried because Elphie and Glinda realize what friends they are and I cried, too, because the curtain call was such a different experience after a Japanese show than anything I’ve ever seen in America. When you clap after an American show, it feels like you’re clapping the players away: “Thanks! Now go away unless you’re gonna sing again!” clapclapclapclap! “Bravo!”
But after the Japanese show, we clapped and clapped and clapped and the actors kept coming back out and coming back out until finally, they waved – two hands – and waved…and we all waved back! It was amazing. It really felt like we were not only thanking them with our claps, an international symbol of appreciation, but also waving at them! As if they could really see us and know that we were waving in appreciation as well…

It created a wonderful feeling of closeness to the actors and their performance. It was awesome…and even though we waved, I didn’t want them to leave the stage and I didn’t want to leave the theater…

Here is a picture Kwan took on the sly (ssshhh…) because photography was not really allowed in the theater. See them waving?



hanami

I love hanami. And if you’ve ever been to one in Japan, you’ll understand. Otherwise, I don’t really think my explaining it can do it justice. Some people we know here plan to go to Ueno or even Kyoto (we did!) for hanami (which means flower-viewing and is literally just that) but I don’t think you can enjoy it nearly as much unless you have friends around you.

Yesterday morning, I packed up some snacks (I made onigiri that actually worked this time!) and took the train into Utsunomiya. Before we’d even scoped out a place to light, we were flagged down by some friends so we camped out beside them. Eventually, we were surrounded by friends. The middle of the park is on a little incline, ringed by cloudy-pink cherry trees. I could have crouched there all day, sipping sakura cocktails and getting sunburnt but as it turned out, our picnic mat made for a perfect slide. Some slid down it quite by accident and others made a game of it. By the end of the night, we’d lined up two of the mats together (to make a longer slide) and one dad was pretty much flinging his tiny son down the hill as he laughed manically. So did we.

The first thing I ate was fried cheese, a relative rarity at Japanese festivals. Then I tried some yakisoba and potato mochi. That mochi was just like a dense hashbrown, drenched in grease and served with a side of butter. Or was it mayonnaise? Anyway, yum. Will mowed on an ear of grilled corn and many cups of kara age or fried chicken. Todd tried the yakitori or really, chicken parts. Good-tasting but not something you want to think about while you eat it. All of this was complemented by several sakura cocktails in a can and eventually some wine. I’ve learned I can only drink so many of those cocktails…Of course, there were obanyaki to finish off the night.

Mine were the last of the children to leave (the parents with the babies left first, right after lunch and then others right after the lights were lit) but they held up just fine. Japanese people seem to have no qualms about including their children in their drunken revelries, chasing them and flinging them down hills. I’m glad we stayed a little longer because our group decided to have an impromptu sumo match which is really quite funny when half of them were stick-thin Japanese and the others tall, if slightly more thick, Americans and Canadians. Great moments of very large, very drunk Matt being taken down by Dan…

I gave Yuka-san the last of my bottle of wine, some friends loaned Sophie a blanket as she’d dressed for summer and the night had gotten cool and we called sayonara and headed up the hill out of the park, the lights of the Utsunomiya tower pink behind us and the lanterns bobbing among the ephemeral trees. Even though the train ride is only 10 minutes, Sophie fell asleep and Will zoned out with his Ultra-man mask on his lap and half-eaten obanyaki in his grubby fist. It felt good to get home and climb into bed to dream of another hanami…



You're always prepared

We saw this vending machine in Kyoto the other day. You can get batteries, cameras and neckties all in the same place! One-stop shopping!



5 o'clock song

In a few moments, the mournful tones of the 5 o’clock song will ring out. The strains of this tune have always made me stop and reflect for a moment, wistful for the day that’s past, eager for the cozy comforts of an evening at home ahead.

It was probably during the first month we were here in Japan, a year ago, when the reason behind the 5 o’clock song was explained to me. We were outside, coatless, in the falling dusk while Sophie and Will played in the tiny garden with the neighbor children. At this point, neither of them could speak a bit of Japanese so playing consisted of running, laughing, yelling…and not making eye contact. Suddenly, the Honda family stopped short and the children ran inside. The 5 o’clock music was playing out from…where? over the Tori-Sen grocery? Mr. Honda explained to me that this song is to tell all the Japanese children to come home. It means that it’s time to quit playing or leave school and run home for dinner where it’s warm and comfortable and your okaasan has made something oishii for dinner.

“Where does the music come from?” I wanted to know. Mr. Honda wasn’t sure. He gestured into the air. On that cold, dusky afternoon, I might have been convinced that the music just played in the Japanese sky, as part of the general unconscious. Now I know that it is piped through a PA system at a park across the street. From the mayor’s office? Sophie wondered…

In any case, I began to be aware always of the 5 o’clock song and listen for it. I began to stop and listen to it, often gazing out at the orange sky before returning inside to the comforts of my own evening inside. And, it’s just like me, how could I be anything else…I began to be nostalgic for Japan before I’ve even left. These feelings have been heightened in the month since we found out we’re leaving early. I am crying now as I write this, thinking of the long, lonely afternoons the song brings to mind, the dark and cool or warm and hazy afternoons, the passing on the street of friends, the laughing of children in the street, the glow of a lamp through the curtain, the wave of a friend’s hand as he heads home. I’m sure, most of all, the song just symbolizes my time of learning and becoming and being in Japan.

For me, this song has come to represent all the beautiful things about Japan and the safe and protected feeling I have here. And it will surely symbolize all the things I will think of leaving behind when I return to the U.S. Someday, that song will play for us as we leave and head for home…

Yuyake koyake
Yuyake koyake de hi ga kurete
Yama no o-tera no kane ga naru
O-te de tsunaide mina kaero
Karasu to issho ni kaerimasho

Kodomo ga kaetta atokara wa
Marui oki na o-tsuki-sama
Kotori ga yume o miru koro wa
Sora ni kirakira kin no hoshi!

The sunset is the end of the day,
the bell from the mountain temple rings
hand by hand let’s go back
home together with the crows.

After the children are back at home
a big and round moon shines,
when the birds dream,
the brightness from the stars fills the sky.



a sort of innocence

Spring break in Japan also means the end of the school year so there are graduations left and right. This week is 6th grade graduation at Sophie’s school and the excitement is in the air. Yesterday was the last day the 6th graders led their walking groups to school and Leonard, the 6th grader down on the corner, came up with a paper bag on his head and proceeded to lead the underclassmen in a little game of “follow the leader” up the middle of the street on their way to school. They wound around in circles, skipping and laughing.

After school, a 6th grader named Yuka-chan stopped by. She had given Sophie a letter at school earlier telling her she loved her and remarking how much Sophie’s Japanese had progressed since the start of school last year. Yuka-chan ended up walking to the park with us where we played with another of Sophie’s classmates and got some pictures.

Today, Yuka-chan and Leonard and the rest of the 6th graders graduated, leaving behind the school where they’ve studied for 6 years to move on, as we all do, to junior high (chogakko) and beyond. All the students had practiced for today for weeks, making sure they knew what to wear, how to bow and the songs to sing. Sophie came home famished and tired and said that she’d cried during the ceremony as did most of the other children there, boys and girls, 1st and 6th graders. The importance of learning and making friends and ritual are highly stressed in all aspects of Japanese life.

I didn’t once get the feeling that Yuka-chan thought of Sophie and Colleen as babies or charges but instead only as friends. The innocence that would make a 12 year old want to play with a 6 year old or a little boy cry openly in front of his peers at a school ceremony is never looked down upon but instead taken as the norm. These rites of passage are so momentous that what else could one do but cry? I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to understand fully the Japanese emotional ups and downs, the rights and wrongs of when it is ok to show joy or vulnerability but I don’t care because I love it all. It has always been in my personal nature to cry at life’s greatest moments and the changes inherent therein and so this seems natural to me. What other emotion do such things bring up but joy and sadness so great that the only thing one can do is cry?

I can’t really talk about this with the other American/Canadian moms here. They would simply roll their eyes and doubt and question it loudly and vocally. Sometimes, I think maybe I’m the weird one but that’s the way I like it…



spring!

The plum trees are blooming…



candy!

I spend a lot of time in the candy and toy aisle. Besides being fascinated myself over the crazy, fun, beautiful snacks…I’m always dragging Will and Sophie out of it when it’s time to the leave the grocery store. On the one hand, this is good because I know they’re safe in the toy aisle while I shop in peace but they do so love it and hate to leave it.

At the store that was across the street from us, I pretty much knew all the candy. When it closed, we started going to the other grocery stores in town. Now, you would think that you’d find the same things at any grocery store…but not so! I was delighted one day to discover these new and, uh, interesting candy packages that we just had to try…
The first is a candy sushi set. We muddled through the instructions (water had to be added to the enclosed sugar) and then mixmixmixed and created yummy candy sushi. The yellow tamago (egg) piece tasted like bananas.
The second set was a takoyaki kit. After mixing a packet of sugar with water, we poured the result into the little takoyaki form and then drizzled “sauce” that tasted like syrup over the top and sprinkled it with negi (onion). So appetizing.
Finally, we tried the ikayaki kit. This one was the easiest. The included skewer was pushed through the “ika” (like a gummy squid!) and then dipped in cola-flavored sauce. Oishii. Hah!

I just loved these. What in America do we have that’s similar? I’m sure there’s something I just can’t think of. But here we have this candy that is in the shape and form of foods that some people won’t eat anyway…I guess maybe that’s why they make it in candy form for kids!



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