Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bullet Train, Bullet Train, Yeaahh! So Faaasst!

As summer came rushing to an end, Josh and I decided that we should take a short trip up to central Japan, to visit some of our great friends, Kelly and Corey. They were our neighbors when we lived in San Diego several years ago and we have been in touch through our many moves around the country as well as the world. Between the two families we  had been trying to manage a trip either here to Sasebo, or there to Atsugi for a while now, but it just hadn't happened.  Kelly and Corey are about ready to leave Japan and head to another duty station, so Josh and I decided it was now or never!   Although we live on different islands, about 17 hours away from each other by car, that didn't stop us! We decided we would just cross another thing off on our bucket list of things to do in Japan, and hop on the Bullet Train, or as the Japanese call it, the Shinkansen and head on up to Atsugi.  It was an all day affair, but it was worth it!  The bullet train was fun and it looked JUST like the interior of an airplane.

As we went from station to station, speeding down the tracks at a speedy 100+ miles per hour, we got to see some of the beauty Japan has to offer. My favorite view was of Mt. Fuji... Isn't it just amazing?!?

    Our main reason, (well, my main reason and perhaps Kelly's too) for us going up to visit on this particular weekend, was because she's always telling me about the "Shrine Sales" that are held up in the Tokyo area.  I guess we don't have such things down on Kyushu, but from what she was telling me, I knew I really wanted to check it out!!  After all, I'm a recycle shopping addict!! This particular sale happened to be that weekend, so we figured we'd plan the trip for then. A "Shrine Sale" is a giant recycle shop, or for those of you in the states, a big Goodwill, (with much better stuff) outside, with hundreds of vendors and thousands of people and it goes on for 6+ blocks!!  It's a bunch of second hand stuff, that people don't want and sell to others. HOWEVER, these second hand shops are like NOTHING you've ever experienced before. It could be because I'm American and I think Japanese stuff is so much cooler than American stuff, but it seems to be something that a lot of people, American and Japanese enjoy. I wish I had taken a picture or two from the shrine sale I went to, but I didn't, so I found these on line..

I had such fun looking through all of the bins and piles of stuff, chatting with Kelly and another friend who lives up there, Sandy. I found many kokeshi dolls to help aid my kokeshi addiction and a few other small things. I very easily could have spent all day there just looking and looking. There were thousands of Kokeshi dolls and no way I could have purchased them all, although Josh swears I did attempt to!  Perhaps I will do a post showcasing my collection some time?? 
 After we were done with our morning shopping excursion, we headed back to base to get ready for the Bon Odori festival, that was being held later that evening.  Kelly and her family were very involved in the entire festival, with Kelly dancing and her two oldest boys playing Taiko Drums. I have many pictures of that evening and all of thefun we had. Hannah got to dress up in a Yakata (summer Kimono) and even had a very nice Japanese lady help her put it on correctly.  Stay tuned for another installment of, " Bullet Train, Bullet Train, Yeaahh, So Faaast!", to see pictures of the festival and of Hannah all dressed up in her beautiful Yakata!!! 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Campaign for a new Mac Book!!

 Well, I've failed to keep up with my blogging, as you can all see from the last date I blogged.... IN JANUARY!  I'm trying to convince Josh that he should buy me a Mac Book, so that I can sit comfy cozy on the couch with him in the evenings and blog my little heart out. It's just not as fun or comfortable blogging from a hard kitchen chair in the dining room, when he's in the living room on the couch watching TV.. As you can tell, I've not been successful, cause I haven't blogged since January and here I sit on my hard kitchen chair in the dining room.  I love IMac, I just wish it was sitting on my lap instead of on a desk. Silly I know.. However, if you like my blog and want me to continue blogging for your entertainment, send Josh a little note of encouragement.. ;O)
  Anyway, I guess I will start with what we've done lately and then work backwards over the last few months until I'm caught up!  Here I go!!!

 Monday, August 27th, was the first day of school for the girls. Hannah started 5th grade and Elliot started 2nd. Like every parent says- " I can't believe they have gotten so big so fast. Where did the time go?"  We ordered special first day of school outfits a month before school started, but they didn't arrive in time, so instead we dug through their closets to find something " semi new" to sport on the first day. I don't think we did too shabby!!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Kintai Bridge

During our trip to Iwakuni for the girls swim meet, we also planned to go visit a few neat place near by. Our first stop was at the Kintai Bridge. The Kintai Bridge is a historic bridge in Iwakuni, that was built in 1673 and spans the Nishiki River in 5 wooden arches. It is also at the base of Mt, Yokoyama. At the top of Mt. Yokoyama sits the Iwakuni Castle. You can see it here in this picture, if you look through the bridge up at the top of the mountain.

Apparently the bridge was originally built completely out of wood, but it was destroyed several times, by floods and typhoons.  Finally they rebuilt it on these pillars and used nails to bind the wood together, instead of fitting together the pieces of wood together like puzzle pieces, as they had previously. Here are a  few other views of the bridge..

Along the side of the shore I spotted some cool little wooden boats with roofs. I wanted to photograph them, but I couldn't get a good angle. So instead I took the picture from this angle. Still pretty neat I think, but not what I was going for. They remind me of little party boats with the table in the center, but I'm not exactly sure what they are used for. 

While we strolled back towards the bridge checking out little shops, one of which was a stone doll shop. Legend tells that two young girls were sacrificed before the building of the bridge, to ask the "Gods" for ease in building it. The dolls, called Ishi ningyo, have been said to be the incarnations of the souls of the girls who died.  The "dolls" are found in the river bed and are sold as souvenirs. 
We also ran into a very sweet Japanese lady who was very interested in Elliot! She was enamored with her blue eyes and light hair. This was a quick snapshot, but it was so cute to see this woman so excited to see a little blonde American.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Off Exploring Japan We Go!

This past weekend, our family took a trip up to Iwakuni, which is about five hours north east of Sasebo and on Honshu Island, which is considered mainland Japan. The main reason for the trip is that the girls had a swim meet against the MCAS Iwakuni swim team. We only swim against them, because that base is the closest to us and also the only team that speaks English. So on Friday, we packed up the rental car, borrowed our friends GPS and off we went! Why did we rent a car, you ask? Well, Japanese toll roads are out of the world expensive and it actually costs less to rent a car and get the toll tickets paid for, (as part of the rental) than it is to drive your own car and pay the tolls yourself. How much is a toll you ask?? Well, we paid about 6000 yen, which is $78.15 for just one toll!!
     So we arrived in Iwakuni on Friday evening, checked into our room and then went to get some dinner. Everyone here always talks about how there's a Pizza Hut in their food court, so we were bee lining it for the Pizza Hut! I know people think we're crazy saying that we were so excited about Pizza Hut, but you have to understand that the only pizza we get is called Alexanders Pizza and it's NOT very good. We can't go out for an American Pizza in Japan. Well, at least I haven't found a place to go yet. Most "pizza's" out in town have very interesting things on top.. Like mayonnaise!! Who eats mayonnaise pizza?!?!?
   So, Saturday was the girls swim meet. We arrived at the pool at 12 and the meet started at 1. The girls changed up and started their warm ups, and I started playing around with my new camera!! Josh bought me a new camera and lens for Christmas and a friend of our who was a professional photographer, offered to help me learn how to use it NOT on auto mode. So, I decided to play around a bit with different techniques. My first was to try and freeze motion. So while Hannah was taking a short rest I had her splash water up in the air.. This is what I got...

                        I also couldn't resist taking a photo of my sweet girls loving on each other!

Fun was had by all at the meet, the girls were exhausted by the time it was over and were ready for bed by 6:30! We went and had some dinner and then chilled at the hotel for the rest of the night to prepare for our exciting day visiting Miyajima and the Kintai Bridge!!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lost in Translation

    One of my favorite parts of living in Japan is coming across all of the funny ways english has been butchered in translation, or the way english is put together, but just isn't quite right. Tonight we went out to dinner with some good friends and afterward we enjoyed strolling though one of the local shopping centers called the Friesta. Along the way we found a a set of 3 earrings, (never 4, because that is bad luck) two of which were miniature cigarette packs labeled "Morlbo". The third earring was a very small sign that said, "No Smorking!" They were so small that I couldn't take a picture of them with my cell phone, but lucky for you, I was able to take a photo of a few other funny labels, which I will post below!!
      After our stroll through the Friesta, we walked through Nakamura, or what the Americans call the Elephant store, because of the big red elephant on the sign. It's just a Japanese grocery store, but I love them, because I always find fun things whenever I go in..

                    Now everybody needs a Crunky Nude Ball every now and then, don't you think?!?

                            Now I don't know how people can deal with just having Meltykiss Whips,
                                            when they can have Meltykiss Whips More!!

Josh discovered this gum on a trip to Yokosuka last month. It's very tasty and the flavor lasts a long time. Since he took the whole container with him to work, I decided I would by some for our house. Once out of the store I opened it up to get a piece of gum and I found this...

Taking this little green thing out of the container I thought, "Oh, how nice! I got a mini sticky note pad in my gum!" Josh giggled at me and explained that each piece of paper is ment to be used to place your gum in, before you dispose of it in the proper facilities. Who'd have thunk?!?!
On the way back to the car, we came across a vending machine. Now, this is not uncommon, as you will see vending machines along the highway, up on top of mountains and on every single street corner all over the city. I've seen vending machines that dispense, sodas, teas, hot and cold coffees, and a Ramen vending machine at the Costco in Fukuoka. Tonight we saw a vending machine that dispensed corn and bean chowder.

Last but not least, for your entertainment, some funny printing on a menu at Coco Curry...

                                  I think what they mean to say is that you will enjoy this...

                     So, if we were going to take this literally, this potato is very pleased with itself!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Learning to MAKE sushi!

So I got an itch to learn how to make my own sushi.. I thought it would be fun to make one night for dinner or for  lunch on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Our friends Danny and Shira invited us over a few weeks ago for sushi and Danny taught me how to use the roller and how to spread the rice without ripping the nori paper. We had a great time making different kinds and of course, eating it!
  This week I went on a mission to find my own sushi roller, rice paddle and some cute little square dishes to put the soy sauce and wasabi in, along with some cute little rectangle plates to use as serving dishes. I really like the rustic hand made pottery that is found everywhere around here and am SURE I will be brining home a ton of it when we leave here in 3 years!
 This morning while Josh and I were sipping our coffee on the couch and the girls were still sleeping, I got the idea that we should make sushi for dinner! Josh had to go into work for a bit and Elliot had a birthday party to attend in the afternoon, so that left me some time to get some sushi supplies together. Josh had taken Hannah to work with him and on the way home they stopped by a local Japanese grocery store to pick up some things I couldn't get at the commissary, like wasabi, fresh fish and sushi rice. Who knew there was such a thing as rice used just for sushi! I spent at least a half hour searching the internet on how to make the perfect sushi rice. I watched a few video's and off I went testing out a method to "make the perfect sushi rice." Turns out the guy was right! It was the perfect sushi rice! Just sticky enough to stay together, but tender enough to fall apart in your mouth! Anyway.... Hannah and Josh had to ask the clerks at the store where to find a few things and then they arrived back home just in time to start "rolling!" We also decided to fry up some tempura  shrimp and asparagus to munch on before the sushi was ready.
   At the last minute, we invited our friends Tim and Michelle over to test out my experiments and Tim decided to make some Octopus Balls. I know, Octopus Balls sound gross, but they weren't actual Octopus Balls, but rather sort of a pancake consistency batter cooked in a neat little round frying pan thing and then you drop in a little piece of octopus and then let them cook until firm... They were quite tasty!!  Here's a photo of the Octopus Ball cooker and what the Octopus Balls looked like when Tim was all done cooking them..

    After lots of rolling and mashing rice on nori paper, here are the finished products!
Hannah likes the cucumber roll with avocado, so this one was for her.

This one is tuna and avacado.

Michelle and I were having fun staging a culinary photo. This one shows the tempura shrimp and asparagus.

The coloring didn't come out as nice on this plate, but this is crab and cucumber, salmon with avocado and some other fish that I don't know, but didn't like that much..

Here's the great spread!  Tim and Michelle even brought over some Golden Saki and Chuhai! 
All in all my first sushi making experience was a great one and I'm looking forward to making it again. Watch out friends back home, when I get there you'll all be eating sushi with me!!  For those of you who just won't give sushi a try, like my sweet Elliot Rose,  I will be nice and make you some of these....

Peanut butter and Jelly Sushi Rolls! 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Nagasaki Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Museum

After a few very busy months of helping repair ships stationed here in Sasebo, Josh was able to take a few days off at the end of September to do some fun things with the family. The girls and I had been a few places without him  and enjoyed visiting those places, but it was time to get Josh in on the fun. After he scheduled his leave, I asked him where he'd like to go. Immediately he said he wanted to go to Nagasaki and see the Atomic Bomb Museum and the Peace Park. Luckily for us, Travel and Tours had a trip to Nagasaki the week he had leave. I have to say that I was very happy to have a tour guide and a bus that drove me to the places I needed to go and that I didn't have to try and navigate my way around Nagasaki. The bus tour was a great experience and we will do it again for sure..
 Now on to the topic of this post...
   Our first stop was the Nagasaki Peace Park. I wasn't sure what to expect, since I didn't ever pay attention to my history teacher in high school, which is undoubtedly where I should have learned all about this.  Anyway.. off I go rambling again..

This statue was donated to the city of Nagasaki as an appeal for world peace and a prayer that something like the atomic bombing would never happen again. The elevated right hand points to the threat of nuclear war, while the out stretched hand symbolizes tranquility and world peace..The folded right leg symbolizes quiet meditation and the left leg is ready for action in assisting humanity.
This was such a magnificent sculpture and the entire park as so quiet and tranquil. The day was nice, warm and the wind was calm. I was pleased that I got to snap this reflection of the statue in the water below..

This next photo was taken by Elliot. Both girls were very interested in all of these paper cranes and wanted to know what they were for and why they were on both sides of the statue. 

We later learned, that these tiny cranes made from origami paper, are believed to bring good luck to whom ever folds 1,000 cranes.  Many children who were dying from the atomic bombing, folded cranes in hopes that if they folded 1,000, they would have healing before death.  The girls thought that was really sad and Elliot just couldn't get over the idea of children dying.

Further on down through the park, we found the Fountain of Peace...

 It gave me chills when I read that it was created so that there would be no more thirst for  those who died begging for water. Of course I don't believe those people are still feeling thirst or pain, but it was chilling to think about. The water sprays up in the shape of angel wings, to symbolize the people who died and are now angels.
Josh got this great view all the way through the park back to the statue..

After the Peace Park, we walked toward the Atomic Bomb Museum. On our walk to the museum, we came upon the "ground zero" of sorts. This monument marked the exact spot that the atomic bomb made  impact. It was absolutely amazing to me, that I was standing in the very spot that this bomb came crashing down, destroyed an entire city and killed so many people.

The close up view of the memorial. People have left water bottles to cure the thirst of the people who were begging for water before they died and offering of flowers sympolizing peace. The black box under the flowers and water symbolized a coffin for everyone who died.

This blew me away too. I understand that this atomic bomb was large and impacted a huge city in a horrible way, but when I see that the ground level was where the blue and white arrow is and realize that after the bomb exploded the ground level is down where that river is, it's a very powerful photo.

Below is a replica of the atomic bomb..

       Once we entered the museum we saw some very interesting and very sad things. We saw pictures of severely injured people and burned children. I tried to sheild Elliot from this area, as I thought she was a little too young to see those images. However, she asked me if she could see them, so I took her back and looked at them with her. After she looked at a few photos and I read her the captions, she whispered to me and said, " Mommy, this is so mean! Why would people hurt people like this?" So I explained in 6 year old terms what had happend with Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima. I don't know she she fully understands it still, but she has an idea. 

The picture above is a story told by a young girl who's sister was trapped under a fallen house and her mother's heroic attempt to save her. It brought tears to my eyes to think of how scared they must have been and how awful it was to lose so many people they loved.

    These next three pictures were taken on top of Mt. Inasa, which overlooks Nagasaki City. The view was amazingly beautiul and also very humbling. When I look at how expansive this city is and realize that everything inside of the moutain I was standing on and the mountains on the other side of the city were completely decimated, I am floored.  I am astounded at the massive power one bomb twice the height of my husband had, the devistation it created and the loss of life it caused.

I may have ignored my history teacher when I was in highschool, but I can't ignore history now. I hope one day when our girls are older and start learning about Pearl Harbor, Nagasaki and Hiroshima, that they look back on this trip and can share their feelings, experiences in Japan and photos we've taken with their classmates.