Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tori gate at Atsugi navy base

Remember when I took this same shot a few months ago, with snow on the ground?!

Park that I walk by on my way to the train station near the navy base

Temple near our house

Another street near our house

Camp Zama army base

Tori gate at Camp Zama

Library building at Camp Zama

The Japanese word for "camellia" is "tsubaki."

I often walk along this path. It is parallel to the train tracks near our house, and our train station is just a short walk from here.

So today I decided to take my camera and photograph cherry blossoms. I walked everywhere! The trees are blooming all over the place, and they only last a short time. The skies have been threatening to dump rain all day, and as I'm writing this, I'm looking out the window and seeing drops starting to fall. I'm so glad I did my excursion earlier this morning. Yesterday I took photos of blossoms at the navy base; the majority of today was spent taking photos at Camp Zama's army base near our house. Aren't the blossoms beautiful? Enjoy!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

My latest craft project

A closer look

Both the army base and the navy base have craft centers, and I recently took a class in the Japanese art of oshie. The pictures above show the finished project that I made. The basic idea is to glue paper (or sometimes fabric) around small pattern pieces of a thicker material. (Our thick layer was made of cardboard and a thin sponge glued together.) After you cover all the pattern pieces, you have to assemble them and glue them together. And then you mount the image on a pre-painted background. The class was only two hours long, and the project for this month was quite complex. Fortunately there were only three of us in the class, and our Japanese teacher helped me a lot! I used a toothpick to put glue on the edges of the paper, if that gives you an idea of how tiny some of the pieces were! Our teacher does a different design each month, and next month's project is a girl in a kimono with cherry blossoms. I think I might sign up for that class too!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Tokyo Tower

Tokyo and Mt. Fuji in background

More of Tokyo from Tokyo Tower

Strange Tower mascots. Apparently they are twin brothers.

Whoa! They put a heavy-duty glass section in the floor of the tower. I was only brave enough to stick part of my foot on it. There was no way I was going to stand on the thing!

Here we are in front of Nijubashi Bridge on the grounds of the Imperial Palace

More trees on the palace grounds

Sumida River. We took a boat cruise down it.

Zach in front of the temple in Asakusa

Man baking some type of rice cracker

Yes, Zach---that really says "Hysteric Mini Meal Set." Check out the creepy characters having a picnic.

Doggie outfits

Doggie strollers---for the mere price of 22,000 yen, or $220!!!

This might look like a clothing store for kids, but it's not. It's for dogs!

Hello! I hope everyone had a nice Easter. We're doing well here. I finally uploaded a bunch of new pictures that we took last weekend on a tour of Tokyo. The day started early and ended late, but we saw a lot and had a good time. Zach really likes it when someone else does the driving, and I don't blame him. The traffic can be a nightmare here.

Our tour started at Tokyo Tower, which gave me flashbacks to our tower experience in Sapporo, but thankfully there was a lot more room to move around once we got off the elevator. The weather was amazing and we couldn't have asked for a nicer day. I was able to take some neat photos of the city and Mt. Fuji in the background. Being in the tower really allows you to see how huge Tokyo is. Buildings go on and on as far as you can see. I've been told that close to 12 million people live in Tokyo.

After our quick tour of the Tower, we got back on the bus and headed for the gardens surrounding the Imperial Palace and home to the emperor of Japan. We had to cut this portion of the tour short because of traffic, but it wasn't the end of the world. We figure that we might go back another day. They open the inner grounds of the palace only twice a year---January 2 and the emperor's birthday. We snapped a photo in front of Nijubashi Bridge, which we were told roughly translates to "eyeglass bridge" because the reflection in the water looks like eyeglasses.

After the palace, we went to Asakusa to see the temple there. The place was super-crowded, and I think I saw more westerners there than any other place I've been to so far in Japan, other than the military bases and the airport. We gave an offering at the temple of 50 yen (you have to throw a coin that has a hole in it---either 5 or 50 yen will do) and then made our way out of the crowds and on to a side street, where we found an awesome bakery and yummy sandwiches for lunch. I'm so addicted to the bakeries here.

After lunch, we gathered at the boarding point for a riverboat cruise down the Sumida River, which goes through the city. The boat was also crowded, but we had a nice time visiting with our tour guide. She tried to explain as much as she could, because the boat tour guide only spoke in Japanese.

Once we finished the boat tour, we went to our final destination called Odaiba Palette Town, which was a big shopping mall and Toyota car museum. It seemed like a strange combination for entertainment, but we had fun. The shopping mall had a bunch of fun stuff for dog lovers, so I snapped a few photos for my dog-loving friends. :-) We were pretty tired by the end of the day, but it was a good tired.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Brunch at the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo

Sitting by the fire inside one of the houses at the museum

Some of the museum houses that have been relocated and preserved

Spring is here!

Standing in front of one of the houses

Zach showing how thick the roof is

Can someone tell me why soft drinks are allowed and other drinks are not?

Making woven slippers

He wrapped the strands around his toes to hold them in place while he was weaving

This is an early version of a squat toilet. And no, this was not the public restroom. Whew.

Statue on the beach in Chigasaki

If you look hard, you can see a small dot in the distance. This is the landmark called Eboshiiwa Rock, and it is shaped like "eboshi," a type of headgear worn by nobles a long time ago.

Howdy, howdy! How are you? It's beautiful and sunny here today, and warm! Yay! Spring has arrived and it feels so good to not feel cold all the time. We've had a nice week here, and I have some fun new pictures to share from some of our activities.

On Sunday, we took another base tour to Tokyo for brunch at the New Sanno Hotel, which is owned by the U.S. armed forces here in Japan. We had heard that it was an amazing spread, and it was. I paced myself but there was no way I could try everything. Sigh. I did leave room for dessert, of course, and had a raspberry chocolate mousse that was incredible! After brunch, we went to this outdoor museum in the town of Kawasaki. They've taken old houses from the surrounding area that have historical significance and moved them to one location so that you can go and visit them and see what life was like many years ago.

On Monday, Seiko invited me to spend the day with her. She suggested that we go to the beach town of Chigasaki for lunch. We caught the train at the station near my house and took it to the end of the line. To my amazement, Chigasaki is only about a 30-minute train ride away, and it's so cool! Until our little excursion, I didn't realize how close we were to the water. That might sound kind of weird, but I just didn't know. And now I do. And I think I have a new favorite place to visit. I can't tell you how much I miss seeing the water, and it felt so good to see it, and hear it, and smell it too. We went to lunch at this new restaurant right on the water, and we dined on yummy pasta and another amazing dessert---this time, cheesecake. It's a good thing I'm walking a lot here!

The cherry blossoms are starting to pop out, and I'm sure in a few weeks they will be in full bloom. The ones I've seen so far are so sweet and delicate. I can't wait to see them everywhere, and I can't wait to share photos of them with you!

Monday, March 3, 2008

A complete MRE, or "Meal, Ready to Eat"

Hashbrowns with bacon

Nutrition label for hashbrowns

Cinnamon scone

There are a lot of things about the military that I'm still learning about, and Zach felt that it was time I was introduced to MREs, or "Meals, Ready to Eat." They have many other names too, such as "Meals, Rejected by Everyone," and "Meals, Rarely Edible." I figure that many of you probably haven't ever seen or tried one, so I thought I'd share my experience.

We bought a few different ones to have on hand for emergencies, and one for tasting. The one we opened was a veggie omelette and hashbrown meal. We didn't eat everything after I read the calorie count and sodium content on the nutrition labels. The soldiers who have to eat these in the field are working hard all day, burning bunches of calories and sweating a lot, so it makes more sense that they would eat an entire meal. By the way, if you want to know more about them, there is lots of info on the Web. In fact, some people have reviews of all the different meals and rate them according to how good they taste.

We ate the hashbrowns and the cinnamon scone, and they weren't too bad. The hashbrowns had a sort of slimy texture though. (For those of you who worked at The Wright Group and remember the food bar in our disaster kits, I think you would agree with me that eating an MRE would be a much better option.) The meal comes with its own heater kit and condiments like tabasco sauce. It also has a powdered beverage and bag to heat the beverage in.

So, that's an MRE---just in case you were wondering. :-)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Hello again. It's late here, but I had to share a little experience from today. I think it will make you appreciate the simplicity of renewing your car tabs in the States.

Every two years, you have to renew your Japanese car registration and pay weight tax, and ours was due. So today we went to the Japanese office where you get this done. I must point out that today's errand was preceded by several other steps that Zach had already taken care of on and off the base, including an inspection and re-inspection of our vehicle and purchase of special insurance. Let's just say that he had some trying moments. :-)

Anyhoo, after we finally found the location, we parked in a lot surrounded by five different buildings labeled A through E. The cryptic map and directions we had from the base told us to start at building D, or was it C? I can't remember. All I know is that it didn't make any sense. Once we entered, we were directed to exit the building and go to a different entrance to register the car. They took our mound of paperwork, shuffled through it, asked Zach to sign his name, and told us how much we had to pay for our weight tax. They pointed us back in the direction we came from, and a nice gentleman took our yen at a different walk-up window and stamped our paperwork. Then he told us to go to building A, where another gentleman shuffled through our growing paperwork and asked us to drive our car to building B and enter lane 1.

So off we went to get our parked car and drive it to building B and lane 1. We figured that lane 1 was set aside for all the clueless foreigners, which we were. People in the other lanes (there were at least 8 or 9 lanes) were going through extensive vehicle inspections, but we think (I emphasize "think") that we didn't have to because we'd already had our car inspected on base and had a piece of paper indicating this. Building B was enormous and similar to Washington's emission testing buildings, but on a much larger scale. Once we found lane 1, we were greeted by another gentleman, who took our pile of paperwork and stamped away at it too. Then he told us to go back to building A and counter #6 (or was it counter #8 ?) with our papers.

Once we proved to the nice folks in building A at counter #6 (or #8?) that we had visited building B and lane 1, they made us pay more money and then gave us these nifty little stickers to put on our windshield. I'm quite sure I've left something out here, but you get the idea, right? Craziness! I have to say that everyone was very nice and polite, and luckily we had everything we needed as far as the paperwork went.

So, next time you grumble about having to get your car emissions tested or tabs renewed, think again. You could be in Japan, trying to muddle through in a foreign language and visiting buildings A, B, C, D, and E! And not in alphabetical order, I might add!