Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Our 2007 Christmas Cake package

Boxed cake

Four perfect strawberries for decorating the top of the cake. Notice that they are wrapped in bubble wrap and came inside a small box!

Streamer poppers and two votive candles. We still haven't figured out why the poppers look like American flags. Anyone have any ideas?

Strange tic-tac-toe game

Christmas Cake!

Christmas Cake with candles!

Ellen being silly in the kitchen on Christmas Eve

Hello Kitty is ready for 2008, the Year of the Rat!

Temple down the street from us that I pass by on my walks

As the Japanese would say, Happy Merry Christmas to everyone!

Christmas is already over here, but it's still Christmas Day in the States, so I thought I could still post my greeting. I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday and enjoying time with family and friends. Things are well here in Japan, and we've been having a fun time. Zach is working a holiday schedule right now, which means that he gets more days off between his work days. We were lucky this year because he didn't have to work on Christmas. We had friends over for dinner on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day was quiet and we stayed at home.

New Year's is a big holiday in Japan, but Christmas isn't. The one Japanese Christmas tradition that we have discovered is eating Christmas Cake. I've posted some photos so you can see ours this year. Zach bought it at the little convenience store just down our street, and it came with all kinds of fun stuff. I could not believe that they packaged the strawberries for the top of the cake in bubble wrap and a separate box! It came with birthday cake candles, so we put candles on the cake and lit them. It seemed weird not to sing "Happy Birthday," so we did. :-)

I know there are many New Year's traditions here, and we're slowly learning about them. 2008 will be the Year of the Rat, and as part of my Christmas presents, Zach got me a stuffed Hello Kitty wearing a rat costume. I've included a picture. I think she's really cute, don't you?

Well, I guess that's it for today. I'm going for a walk this afternoon. It's so beautiful and sunny outside. I've included a picture of the temple that I often walk by when I go for my walks. It still amazes me every time I go by it and reminds me that I really am living in Japan. Happy Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Spring water used for making sake

Machinery that polishes the rice for sake

Mold added in the fermentation process

Tasting sake!

Making washi paper

Equipment for making paper

Paper drying

Bell Tower in Kawagoe


Candy, candy, candy!!

Fish-shaped waffle molds. They put fillings in the waffles, like sweet potato, custard, and sweet bean paste. We tried the custard-filled one. Yummy!

Making the waffles


Inside Kitain Temple in Kawagoe

Inside Kitain Temple

Inside Kitain Temple

Inside Kitain Temple

Inside Kitain Temple

Outside the temple

Creepy Alien Buddha Disciple

Toenail-Clipper Buddha Disciple

Nose-Picker Buddha Disciple and Zach

Hello! Things are good here. I can't believe it's already Thursday. I've been kind of busy and have been meaning to post some photos from a trip we took last Sunday. The base has a travel office that offers a bunch of different tours---one for every day of the week! And they are usually quite affordable. We picked a tour that took us to a small sake brewery called Seisun, where we learned all about the brewing process and tasted the final product. Nothing like sampling alcohol at 10 in the morning! Then it was off to a paper-making factory that makes handmade washi paper. We made our own paper postcards, and they will send us the paper after it has dried. I'll post a picture of the final product when they arrive. The tour concluded with a trip to the town of Kawagoe, which has a lot of old buildings, an entire street devoted to candy (!!!), and a beautiful temple called Kitain. This was my first temple visit in Japan, and I was so amazed. Adjacent to the temple was a courtyard with 540 carved stone statues representing the disciples of Buddha. We left offerings at two of them because they made us laugh. Check out my darling husband and his favorite---Nose-Picker Buddha Disciple!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Our recycling bins

Happy Friday! I hope everyone is well and ready for the weekend. If you need a good laugh, you really have to check out the Japanese toilet-training video that my friend Jen recommended. It is soooo hilarious. Here's the link:

It is beautiful and sunny here today. I took out the plastic recycling a little while ago and realized that this might be a topic to share on my blog. I know, you're thinking, recycling? Yes, recycling AND garbage. I'm a big supporter of recycling, and I think it's an easy way to help our planet. In Japan, they take it to a whole new level. Japan is a small country with a lot of people, and they follow a complicated system for collecting recycling and garbage. So, I'll try to explain the process for our little neighborhood, since it differs depending on where you live.

First off, as you can see in the photo above, we have five recycling cans! Plus, we have another can for garbage. Our garbage/recycling collection site is located at the end of our street. It is a three-walled enclosure, with a little roof over it.

Garbage is collected on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Everything, whether it's garbage or recycling, has to be put in transparent or semi-transparent bags so that the collectors can see what's in the bags.

Monday is Recyclable Resource Day and Paper Day. This means that they collect glass, cans, and paper items. Paper items have to be sorted by type, which means that things like magazines and newspapers go in one bag, and paper bags and packaging go in another.

Friday is Plastic Day and Pet Bottle Day. All plastic wrapping and containers that don't have the triangle symbol with the number 1 go in one bag, and all bottles with the number 1/triangle go in another. With the pet bottles, you have to take off the plastic lids and labels, and put those two items in with the plastic wrappings. We have full-color brochures with examples of all the items that you have to recycle. Here's a link to a pdf of one of the brochures. It's in English:

This brochure is a little old, however. They recently changed their plastic and paper recycling process, with more items that you have to recycle and different collection days. I unfortunately couldn't find a copy of this brochure to share with you, but it's definitely made things more complicated.

So, craziness, no? You really think twice about everything you need to get rid of here. Is this garbage? Is this recycling? Which bin do I put it in? What day of the week is it? I will never look at garbage the same way again.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

See how happy they are?! Tofu Man even has a Santa hat!

Origami paper crane that I made last year

Little Santa from Ikea. He is one of a dozen on our tree. Zach thinks they look like cat hairballs, and keeps asking me when we got a cat. Argh!

Angel Hello Kitty that we found at our local secondhand shop for 50 yen, or about 50 cents!

Howdy! How is everyone? 'Tis the season at the Schwarting house in Japan! We put up our Christmas tree and a few decorations around the house the other night. I thought you might enjoy seeing how happy Tofu Man and Reindeer Man are. A lot of our ornaments are in storage back in the States, but we found some fun ones here to decorate with. Last year I came to visit Zach for the holidays, and I made a bunch of origami paper cranes to put on the tree. Kind of weird, but I thought it was appropriate for where we are. Enjoy the pictures!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Okay, okay. As Carol pointed out, my new bag isn't new anymore, and it's about time that I added a new post. I am happy to read that you guys have found some good laughs from I was surprised at how many of you hadn't heard of it before. Tami, you'll have to send me a picture of yourself with your new T-shirts from Engrish! I told Zach about Smelly Smell, and he was saying that it would be even better if it said "Tasty Smelly Smell." That's my guy! :-)

So how was everyone's Thanksgiving? I was recovering from food poisoning on Turkey Day, so our holiday was a bit quiet. I'm not sure what made me sick, but I think it was something from our favorite sushi restaurant. Muh. I really like that place. Of course, now my husband, who can't resist teasing me, loves to ask me if I'd like sushi for dinner. Argh! I was out of commission for a good two days, and it's going to be a while before I want to go back to that restaurant, if ever.

I did attempt to make a small turkey dinner for us after I felt better. I'd purchased a lot of the food at the base before I got sick, and I didn't want it to go to waste. The challenge of this meal, however, was that I had to cook everything in a toaster oven (!) and over the stove. We bought the toaster oven soon after I arrived here in September because our Japanese-style kitchen only has a tiny fish oven. After burning two slices of bread in the fish oven, I decided that I didn't have a lot of skill using it and haven't touched it since. The toaster oven has been working out okay, and I did manage to make a decent turkey dinner with it, but it takes FOREVER to make cookies with it. Like a dork, I made a entire batch of peanut butter chocolate chip cookies in it, but it took all day long because I can only bake eight cookies at a time! Christmas cookies are going to be interesting this year, that's all I have to say! American-size ovens are going to seem HUGE when I return.

There's not too much else to report around here. I spent most of today cleaning house and getting things ready to start decorating for Christmas. Some of our Japanese neighbors have Christmas lights up already, and several of the malls and shopping areas have their twinkle lights in place too. Even though Christmas is not a big holiday in Japan (New Year's is their big thing), a few people decorate and many of the stores have Christmas decorations and cards for sale.

Okay, bye for today!

Monday, November 19, 2007

My new bag

Yes---it really says that!

Hello! I was out shopping yesterday with my friend Carlina, and I came across this bag. Since it was pretty cheap, I figured it was worth buying for the laughs. And as an added bonus, it's a nice bag! It has classic Engrish on it. If you're not familiar with the term "Engrish," it is used to describe the funny forms of English you'll find here in Japan. In fact, there's a person who has devoted an entire site to it. Check out to see more pictures of stuff that is really funny, and answers to why the Japanese print things like this bag!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Shrimp pizza!

Costco-size bag of small dried fish. Yes, it's in our cart, but no, it didn't stay there!

Birthday cake in Japanese!

Don't these look like hot dogs?

Silly Zach on the cell phone, standing in front of the rice aisle

More bags of rice

Vacuum-packed pickled items

Cartons of Japanese sake!

Happy Friday! The last couple of days have been beautiful here. It's overcast today, but still nice. Fall has definitely arrived, and the leaves are changing colors. It's warmer here than I am used to in Washington this time of year, but it can get cold too.

Yesterday was a day off from work for Zach, and we decided to make a trek to Costco Japan. We had heard that they have a pretty decent selection of books in English, and since both Zach and I love to read, we thought we'd check it out. Finding books printed in English here is not easy. We picked up a map from the base information center a while back, but it turned out to be horrible. We eventually found our way there, but not without a bit of frustration along the way!

I brought my camera along to take some photos of different things they had. For the most part, it was quite similar to Costco in the States, but they also had several Japanese foods and gadgets as well. Anyone interested in large bags of dried fish, or fish sticks that look like hot dogs?
:-) We thought the prices were quite high, and since we can buy a lot of American goods at the base for a lot less, we didn't go too crazy. We were kind of bummed about the book selection, which was basically nonexistent. We're wondering if they sold books in English at one time, but then stopped since maybe there wasn't a big demand for them here. Though we didn't buy much, I can see how a store like this would be quite appealing to an American living here who doesn't have easy access to American items.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

View of Mt. Fugi from Atsugi Naval Base

Another photo of Mt. Fugi

This morning I got a phone call from my weather-forecaster husband at work, telling me that if I wanted some nice pictures of Mt. Fugi, I should take the train and come to the base because it was going to be a beautiful and clear day. Since I've been here, I haven't seen Mt. Fugi because it's always been overcast on the days I've been at the naval base. We can't see it from our house. So, with camera in hand, I went to the base and wasn't disappointed. What an amazing sight! While I was taking the photos, a Japanese woman stopped and told me (in English) that she had taken pictures herself that morning because it's not often that you're able to see Mt. Fugi. I hope you enjoy the pictures!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tofu Man has a new friend---Reindeer Man!

Howdy! Yes, it's been FOREVER since I posted anything, and it's been weighing heavily on my mind. Well, sort of, but I have been thinking about it. :-) I finished up a week-long orientation class on the naval base, plus a day-long driving class. I've also been fighting a chest cold thing that doesn't want to go away. Lucky Zach has it now. :-) And my birthday was on Saturday. Since both Zach and I are not feeling our best, we didn't go too crazy with celebrating. We did go to the city of Machida in the afternoon to do some exploring. It probably sounds kind of silly, but we went to TGIFridays for dinner. Japanese food is great, but sometimes it's nice to just have a good old hamburger. (There are a fair number of American chain restaurants here. Outback Steakhouse, Denny's, and most of the fast-food guys are close to where we live.) I did have a Japanese birthday cake that Zach bought at a Japanese bakery called Fujiya. It was quite tasty and came in fancy packaging. I forgot to take a picture, but I swear it was awesome. :-)

The orientation class was informative and I made a few new friends, which is good, since it's been hard meeting people here. We learned a lot about Japanese culture, and spent some time practicing some survival Japanese phrases. On the fourth day we went as a class to the one of the local train stations to learn about the train system. The instructor left us there in groups to continue on our own small field trip and figure out how to get home on our own. My group just took a quick trip to Machida to do some shopping. We all did fine and no one got lost. I had to use the train a lot during the week, and I feel more comfortable using it now.

Unlike the orientation class, the driving class left a lot to be desired, and I am frightened that a little card says that I can now legally drive here. I plan to practice on the base before I ever drive out in town. Some of you might not know that in Japan, they drive like they do in England, on the left side of the road. As a pedestrian, I've had to relearn all that I've always known about which direction cars are coming. I really have to force myself to think about it. I suppose I can figure out the driving thing too, but I want to be super careful about it. Getting in an accident here, even just a little fender-bender, is no joke. And the laws are different from the States. For example, if you are driving along and a guy pulls out into your lane and stops, and you swerve to avoid him but scrape his bumper, you're at fault because the guy was stopped. And pedestrians have all rights. If you hit a pedestrian, you're 100 percent at fault, regardless of what happened. Plus, you have narrow streets to navigate and people on bicycles and scooters with a death wish. I can't tell you how many times I've seen bicylists meander into the street with no thoughts about the oncoming traffic. On the plus side, everyone seems to drive pretty slow here so most accidents are minor if there is one.

By the way, as you can see in my picture at the beginning of the blog, Tofu Man has a new friend---Reindeer Man. The shop where I bought Tofu Man has their Christmas stuff for sale already, and I just couldn't resist. I know that some of you are deeply disturbed by this line of merchandise, but how can you say no to a square reindeer? He is so darn cute!

Okay, I guess that's enough blogging for today. Bye for now!