Saturday, January 30, 2010

I figured I could post at least once in the month of January! Soon this will be a blog about our adventures in Washington D.C. We are leaving Japan on February 9th, and it is going to be so difficult to say goodbye to this wonderful place that I have called home for the last two and half years. Right now we are in the middle of getting things organized and ready for the movers. They arrive on Monday! Wish me luck, since this will be my first military move. I must get back to my to-do list, which seems to get longer every time I cross something off. Shouldn't it be the other way around? Thanks so much for following our time here in Japan. And stay tuned, because there will be plenty of fun stuff to share once we get to the D.C. area!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Anpanman and Baikinman wish you a Happy Merry Christmas! (If you don't know who they are, check out my post from January 7, 2008).

Karaoke electronic menu

Khozo and Seiko---they are awesome at karaoke!

Yep, I tried.

Yes, this is proof that Zach also sang!

Khozo is ichiban---number one!

Seiko singing and dancing. This was so hilarious. She sang a Japanese song popular during her high school days, and she still remembers all the words and dance moves.

Our 2009 Christmas cake!

A closer look

Happy Merry Christmas Eve! We just got home from Vinawalk, our local shopping mall, where we bought our Christmas cake for 2009. The photo is pretty good, but I wish you could smell the chocolate scent that was coming from this dessert while I took the photo. I am planning to make Swedish meatballs and Norwegian rommegrot for dinner tonight, but maybe we should just eat cake. Hmmm...I'll let you know how it tastes.

The other night we went out with Seiko and her husband Khozo for a fun evening of dinner and karaoke. Karaoke was on my Japan to-do list, and now I can say I did it. It was a blast! In the States you usually have to get up and sing in front of lots of people at a karaoke bar, but in Japan you rent a small room for a certain amount of time (we had ours for an hour), with your own private karaoke machine and couches. This allows you to sing and embarrass yourself in front of just your friends, not total strangers. :-) The place we went to had free soft drinks, and you could also buy beer. Seiko and Khozo were amazing singers. Seiko even did a dance number!

We hope you have a wonderful Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Temple at Mt. Fuji Peace Park

Mt. Fuji viewpoint from Peace Park---except the clouds were in our way, all day. Reminded me of Mt. Rainier and its amazing ability to also hide.

One of Mt. Fuji's eight springs

Torii gate at Miyajima Island

Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island

Yummy waffles shaped like leaves and filled with chocolate, custard, or red bean paste. Miyajima is famous for these delicious snacks.

Miyajima deer

Beautiful park near our hotel in Hiroshima

Fall leaves

Statue at Children's Peace Park in Hiroshima

Cranes that people leave at the Children's Park

Peace Memorial Park

A-Bomb Dome was left as it was the day of the bombing

Old photo of the city after the bombing. You can see the A-Bomb Dome in this photo.

Our okonomiyaki chef. Hiroshima is famous for these. They are kind of like an omelette pancake. It was so much food, but tasty.

Model of Yamato battleship

Entrance to Disneysea!

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride

Zach is happy because he found smoked turkey legs!

My hat, my lovely, lovely Mickey Mouse hat. I love this thing. It kept me so warm! And yes, it is goofy, but so am I.

Freaky Duffy bears. People were going nuts over these bears, buying them like crazy, and I didn't get it. They have Mickey's face shape but they're not Mickey. They really disturbed me a lot, and that's saying something, isn't it, considering how many weird things I do like.

More of Disneysea

And more of Disneysea

Hello! Christmas is one week away! The tree is up, the decorations are in place, and Zach's presents are wrapped and under the tree. I guess baking a few Christmas goodies is next on my agenda, but not before I update my blog.

Our big news around here is that we finally have orders from the navy, and we're headed to the Washington D.C. area in a few months. Zach will be working at the Naval Ice Center. I will really miss Japan and the friends I've made here, and I think a part of me is in denial that we are actually leaving. I think I might also be trying to block out the thought of moving too.

We've been trying to get as much sightseeing in as possible, since time is quickly running out. Zach took a few weeks of leave at the beginning of December, and during that time we were busy. We went on a day trip to see Mt. Fuji and the surrounding lakes. Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate all day and we never did see the mountain, but we've seen it before so it was okay.

We went on a longer three-day trip to Hiroshima and the nearby towns of Miyajima Island and Kure City. I've always wanted to go and pay my respects to the people of Hiroshima, and I finally got that chance. It was a sobering experience, walking around the town and visiting the memorials. What amazed me was the fact that if you didn't know history, you'd never know that a disaster occurred there so many years ago. The city is completely rebuilt and thriving.

The island of Miyajima is just a short train ride away from Hiroshima, so we went there to see the famous torii gate out in the water, and the Itsukushima Shrine that looks like it is floating in the water. Unfortunately the tide was out while we there, so we didn't really get the sense of floating on anything. But it was still beautiful. They do have a severe deer problem there, and there are signs everywhere telling you not to feed the deer. At one point, one of them tried to eat our map!

Zach wanted to visit the Kure Maritime Museum and the Japan Marine Self Defense Force Museum in Kure City, which is also a short train ride from Hiroshima, so we did that on our last day. The maritime museum houses a model of the Yamato, the largest battleship ever made. And the other museum has a submarine that you can go inside. Both museums were very nice.

During Zach's vacation time, we also took a trip to Tokyo Disneysea. What a blast! I think I really wore Zach out by the time we left, but it was so much fun. As its name suggests, the park has a nautical theme, and it's also where they've put some of the rides that are geared more toward grown-ups, like Indiana Jones. We also enjoyed a ride called the Tower of Terror, which takes you up in an elevator and then you freefall. And Journey to the Center of the Earth was another fun one. It was actually quite busy while we were there, which I thought was strange since it was on a Tuesday before school holidays started. And Karen, if you're reading this, it didn't rain! But it was cold. Everyone was wearing these goofy fuzzy character hats, and of course I had to get one. I finally chose the Mickey Mouse hat and just love the silly thing. It's so warm!

Yesterday I had a wonderful visit with Seiko and our friend Makiko and her son Ryohei. I used to teach English to Ryohei, but his dad works for Nissan and they moved to England earlier this year for his job. Makiko and Ryohei are visiting Japan for a week, and I felt so lucky to see them.

Okay, guess that's about it from here. I hope everyone is enjoying the pre-Christmas season rather than stressing out from it. If at all possible, take some time to just relax. And by the way, Reindeer Man says hello!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Beginning of trail to Mt. Takao

Look at all the people!

First stop

View from 382 meters

Mr. Okura making a kokeshi doll

He gave this to me when he was done!

Seiko and her wooden cup filled with delicious sake

Close up of our cups filled with sake


These statues were so amazing along the hillside

View from the top---599 meters!

Hello! Yesterday I went on a long hike with Seiko to Mt. Takao, and these are the pictures to prove it! We planned to take the cable car to the top, but yesterday was a Japanese holiday to honor workers, similar to our Labor Day, and it seemed like everyone was in line for the cable car. The weather was gorgeous and the fall leaves are spectacular right now, enticing even more people to visit the mountain. So, after some discussion, we decided to climb it. Thank goodness I have been going to the gym lately, because this was no easy task. It took around two hours to climb to the top (plus time for a stop for sake and lunch!), along a very steep path that was paved most of the way.

On the way down, we thought we'd try to take the cable car, but we weren't too surprised when we saw the horrible lines of people standing in line, with no signs of it getting better. The hike down the mountain was difficult on my knees because it was so steep, but I managed. The most incredible thing was watching all of these elderly Japanese folks along the trail. These guys were amazing! Seiko and I kept commenting on how they are in such great shape for their age. I want to be like them when I am that old.

We met some really fun people along the way, including this one gentleman who has been hiking the mountain every weekend in November for the past several years to enjoy the sake that they sell. They sell the sake in these little wooden boxes on weekends in November, and you get to keep the box as a souvenir. He told us that he has many of these boxes! It tasted great but it was strong, so we took our time with lunch!

We also met a local man, Kuninobu Okura, who makes beautiful kokeshi dolls. His wife paints them with gorgeous flowers and leaves. We watched him carve a doll and afterward, he gave the doll to me! I was so touched that he did that. Apparently he is going to be on a local t.v. show next week, demonstrating his craft, so I hope to watch it.

We were very tired when we finished our hike, but it was such a fun day, with wonderful experiences to add to my memories of Japan.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Shinkansen, or bullet train

Me in front of the Golden Pavilion

Kyoto Tower at night


Delicious sand?! Yum!

Kiyomizudera Temple. Please notice the large number of people standing on the wooden terrace. Wouldn't it make you nervous too?

HUGE torii gate outside the Kyoto Museum of Modern Art. If you look closely, you can see Zach standing at the bottom of it on the left.

Zach---which way should we go?! This is near the beginning of the path of torii gates at the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine.

I think we had been hiking for about an hour at this point.

Cute kid dressed up in her kimono

The cousins, Zach and Jarrod

Yoko and Seiko

Those dots are surfers! View near Yoko's house

Hello! Zach and I had a terrific weekend in Kyoto, and we ended up with some fun photos to share. We took our first bullet train or Shinkansen ride to get there, and it was FAST! Up to 186 miles per hour fast! Plus, we did not dawdle when getting on and off the train. I think we had maybe two minutes to get on the train. It started moving before we were in our seats.

While in Kyoto, we managed to see quite a bit, although there were many more things to do that we couldn't fit in. We arrived in the afternoon on Friday, and by the time we got our bus passes and made our way across the city to the Golden Pavilion, it was almost dusk. I was in awe at how beautiful it was and just couldn't believe that I was finally seeing it in person.

On Saturday, we walked and walked, and then we walked some more! We visited the Kiyomizudera Temple, or water temple, with its gigantic outdoor terrace that freaked me out. I kept looking at all the people standing on it, and my imagination got the best of me. The view was stunning, but I was happy when we made our way across to the other side.

We ended up with gorgeous weather. The leaves were also beginnning to turn, and I think in another week they will be even more beautiful. We also visited the Kyoto Handicraft Center on Saturday, which turned out to be not quite what I thought. I was under the impression that there would be many artisans there demonstrating their crafts, but it was more of a place to buy locally made gifts. That was okay for me, but Zach got a bit restless, as most husbands would when faced with a five-story building filled with trinkets! Afterward, we walked along the Philosopher's Path that follows a canal through the city. It was getting quite dark and I think it would have been better earlier in the day.

On Sunday, we went to the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine, which involved a two-hour hike along a path lined with thousands of torii gates. I thought we would just take a look at the beginning of the path, but Zach wanted to do the entire hike, so we did, and I'm so glad we did. It was an incredible walk through the forest, and along the way were little restaurants selling fried tofu and noodles. We were watching the clock because we had a train to catch in the afternoon so we didn't stop to eat, but I've heard that it is a pretty tasty dish. Maybe next time. :-)

I wish we had more time to spend in Kyoto, but I'm thankful that we made it there. Living near Tokyo is great, but sometimes it's nice to get out of the big city and see some of the countryside.

We also had some company visiting last week. Zach's cousin Jarrod came to visit. He's in the army and stationed in Germany, and it had been a while since Zach had seen him. We had a fun time showing him around Kamakura and went to afternoon brunch at the New Sanno Hotel. We also went to Sunshine City, an enormous shopping area that I was unfamiliar with and a bit frightened of. I love to shop, but this place tested my patience.

I also spent time with Seiko last week and met her sister Yoko for the first time. Yoko has two children, a girl and a boy, who are absolutely adorable. Yoko and her husband live near the water, so we went for a walk along the waterfront. The weather was fantastic, and the view was great.

Well, I think that brings things a bit more up to date from here. Enjoy the photos!