Sunday, September 27, 2009

Geographical Bachelor

Jeff left for Japan in December of ’08. I have to give the man a lot of credit – it was hard to say good-bye and all that but the kids and I were still in our house, with our dog, with our neighbors – Jeff on the other hand was moving to another country with 2 suitcases in hand. Of course when you’re in the military it’s not like you have a lot of choice in the matter, but still it doesn’t make the missed birthdays, missed anniversary’s (oh yeah, and in case anyone was counting this was our 25th – spent apart, how typical), missed soccer games, crew meets, etc. any easier. It was also the first time in our Navy life that Jeff was a geographical bachelor and we can’t whine too loudly about that – I think most of our Navy friends have done this at least one time or another. All for the family good.

No room at the inn

Have to love the Navy who looks after their own. Jeff arrives with orders in hand (but not bags because the airlines lost one of his bags that had all of his clothes) and immediately discovers that even though his orders say he gets 60 days in the BOQ (Bachelor Officer’s Quarters) – they give him a whopping ten days. No amount of pointing at his orders does a bit of good. He does manage to get extended a couple of days at a time but this is also in the middle of trying to check in – which is a long process – two weeks of indoc classes, looking for a car, etc. In the end we both decided the one stressor he really didn’t need anymore was to wake up each morning and not know if he had a place to sleep that night. He finds an agent to work with out in town and goes through the process of securing off base housing – but because he is a Pediatrician he is required to live 20 minutes door-to-door for delivery’s (OB’s are required to do this too – the only two type of doctors that this is mandatory). This proves to be somewhat of a challenge as most of the apts just off base have been swooped up by government contractors – at one point he was looking at having to sleep on a fellow doctor’s sofa for a few nights because the Navy Lodge was full, the BOQ was booting him and he still hadn’t been able to find an apt that met the time constraints. Yes, a person with even a smidge of common sense would think – surely the Navy takes care of it’s own and since they require OB/Peds docs to live close they would help arrange some sort of housing priority. Well, that certainly sounds like a reasonable idea at least from this spouses point of view but it’s not apparently a high priority to those in charge.

It’ll all work out

Jeff does end up finding an apt and it was a traditional Japanese apt. He had us in stitches on Skype as he walked his laptop through the apt showing us the room with the tatami mats, the teeny-tiny kitchen with no oven. Traditional Japanese homes do not have ovens and as a matter of fact I’ve been told that those of us with on base kitchens open up our homes during the holiday season to military families living off base so they can come and bake holiday cookies. But the room which seemed to hold the most fascination with him was the bathroom. I swear he’ll be ordering one of those Toto toilets to go back in our shipment that heats the seat, plays music and washes off the correct body part for whatever function you just performed en toilet. He gets a bike while waiting for a car to pop up on base for sale – so he’s using pedal power to get into the hospital, which it turns out is actually faster than trying to drive, but it is darn cold at 2 a.m. in January when he’s riding in for a delivery. He gets loaner furniture – he had a bed, a chair, a desk. That was pretty much it. He does finally get a car. And in the end it did all work out. Just maybe not quite with the ease he and I had envisioned. And maybe that’s the point – the path is not always easy to get where you want to go. Something I had to keep reminding myself of constantly during this time.


I appreciate you all letting me get this all down and out of my system. I’ll try and wrap up the moving saga with several more entries that will hopefully answer some of the questions I’ve been getting in my emails. Clunker vs Junker, Unconditional Love, Meanwhile Back at the Ranch, It takes more than a village, Hey Mom, what’s your time for the 50 Yard Dash?

Till next time, sayonara. Jane

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pack your bags honey – I’ve got one more move left in me!

When I was little, growing up outside of D.C., I was fascinated by the military families who moved onto our street. A moving truck pulled up in front of their home and all their belongings were in these huge crates – neatly lined up, just waiting to be opened. Maybe I was intrigued by the thought of somehow everything one owns can be packed into a box. Or, perhaps it was the excitement and the buzz surrounding boxes being unloaded – like having your very own personal UPS driver pull up and deliver all your possessions. It seemed like fun, like an adventure – little did I know that one day I’d fall in love and marry a guy who was going to take me on a life long adventure of packing and unpacking many, many boxes.

Now tell me again, why are you in Japan?

I’ve had that question a lot and since it was a quiet week with no exciting road trips to report (thank God), I thought I’d bring everyone up to speed – especially since I’m such a Christmas Card Slacker (CCS) and haven’t bothered to send one out in 5 years, some folks totally missed the whole Maryland/Johns Hopkins fellowship stint (email me if you want to know about that one).

Change is Good

For those of you that have been with us since the beginning, that gave up on writing our names in your address book and just started putting our info down on little yellow stickies – in pencil - here’s the stats: this would be move number 12 - San Diego; Alameda, CA; San Diego; Rhode Island; Arlington, VA; Bethesda, MD; Norfolk, VA; Jacksonville, NC; Camp Lejeune, NC; Severna Park, MD; Norfolk, VA; Yokosuka, Japan. 25 years of marriage and 12 moves and sadly for me the party is not over yet. There used to be something exciting about moving – I actually enjoyed it. Someone comes in and packs up all your belongings, you move to a new area – a chance to see a different part of the country and make new friends, expand your horizons. An opportunity to purge, a time to reevaluate, reorder your world – think of it like a New Year’s Resolution in overdrive. Maybe it’s because I’m older and I don’t want to have to say good bye to yet another set of friends; maybe it’s because with kids, moving becomes much more complicated; maybe exciting isn’t what floats my boat anymore – comfortable does. Let’s just say I was happy in Norfolk, content to let things just be, totally good with having Jeff serve out the remaining years of his payback (5 years of med school + 3 years of fellowship) … until one day in March 2008 when Jeff came home and handed me an email and said “this just came across my desk - what do you think?” It was an email message asking for Navy Pediatric Specialists to volunteer for Overseas General Pediatric Billets. As a Pediatric Specialist Jeff would not have the opportunity to be assigned an overseas tour because in theory if you need a specialist then you won’t pass the overseas physical so therefore there is no need for Peds Specialists overseas – everyone follow? This was our only chance to live abroad. A chance to give our kids an amazing gift to experience a different culture. What did I think? Well, it took about 10 seconds - maybe (for all my brain cells to connect) and then I think I started jumping up and down and thinking this will be soooo cooool. Was I excited? You bet. Had I already forgotten how much moving bites? Obviously. Pack your bags honey – I’ve got one more move left in me!

Really, What was I thinking?

Maybe moving is a lot like childbirth … you go through the pain, the sweat and tears and then you have this beautiful little baby (or in our case babies). Then the baby gets older, becomes a toddler and you think “ooooo maybe I’ll have another baby, I miss that baby smell, I miss the nurturing, I miss having someone who doesn’t have a vocabulary of “no” and “poopy” – oh, wait, babies don’t have a vocabulary yet – wow, I think the baby circle of life just became very clear to me - they don’t talk back” and you forget about the pain, the sweat, the tears. Moving is definitely like childbirth. It’s the excitement of learning all about where you are moving to, it’s the challenge of information gathering (Jeff will say that’s one skill I have fine tuned over 12 moves – now what can I market that into to pay for tandem college tuitions?), it’s the smell of a freshly opened can of paint, it’s the nurturing of turning a house into a home, it’s the … would one of my dear friends please just slap me the next time I mention anything about moving? Because it’s a lot about pain (dealing with the Navy Personal Property office), sweat (sweating it out on many different fronts – like finding out you don’t have the right passport and so you can’t get your plane tickets to fly to be with your husband who is already IN ANOTHER COUNTRY – but more on that later, actually that just may have to be a completely different blog entry, when I’ve had several very large glasses of wine) and tears – really, I don’t think I want to share the tears part with you all because then, even my closest friends will think “psycho.”

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

I really dislike that saying – probably because so many people said that to me in the beginning of our marriage, when Jeff was at sea more than he was home. Or maybe it’s because I think the people who say it have never really experienced a long separation and they are just clueless. Having any family member separated from the rest of the familial nuclei is just plain and simple hard. And so it was not an easy decision but in the end we decided it was the best one for our family – Jeff would go ahead of us to Japan and we would catch up with him later, after school, after summer camps, after the dog completed the 6 months of preemptive quarantine measures.

It will all work out

We heard this A LOT – especially from the friends who had survived an overseas move, some of which actually signed up for another one. Well, I’m out of time and I know I’m already late with my entry for the week - so you all will have to tune back in to find out just how did it all work out. I’m off to do the soccer mom job and get Wrenn to a scrimmage. So consider this part one of a several part entry on the trials and tribulations of getting a military family overseas.

Thanks for all the positive feedback everyone! Really, I am amazed everyone keeps reading and I love hearing from our friends and family. I’ll try to wrap up the moving saga this week so that I can fill everyone in on the Bazaar that’s coming to the base this weekend. 6 floors of a parking garage here packed with goods from Asia – all for me! Well, not really but it sure will be fun to do lots of window-shopping and hopefully pick up some Christmas gifts. Strangely Jeff wants to actually go shopping with me … I wonder why?

Till next time. Sayonara.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Setomono Matsuri

Yesterday, was Sunday and I got up very early to catch a bus for a trip to the city of Seto located in the Aichi Prefecture which is about a 5 hour bus ride from Yokosuka. Each year Seto hosts the Setomono Matsuri on the second weekend in September. Potters from the area line the streets that run along a river that goes through the center of town. We were told that last year 50,000 people from all over Japan came to this 2-day festival. With my suitcase on wheels and bubble wrap, my list of what I’d like to buy, research on the different types of glazes, and Yen in my pocket I was armed and dangerous, ready to fight the masses for those special pieces of pottery out there just waiting for me!

A Little History

Seto became recognized as one of the six “Nihon Rokkoyo” (oldest pottery centers in Japan) during the Kamakura period (1158-1333), and it stood out from the other areas as it was the only area to glaze its pottery. The two particular glazes I was interested in were:

Oribe Ware (Green or Black) - A high-fired ware that originated around 1600. This ceramic style is named after tea master and warrior Furuta Oribe (1545-1615). The pieces have a dark green copper glaze, white slip, underglaze brush work, and use of clear glaze.

Ki-seto Ware (Yellow Seto) - A high-fired ware that originated around the late 1700’s. In particular I was looking for Aburage-de (deep-fried tofu) which is a matte yellow glaze that is applied thickly to a crinkled or semi-rough surface.

Artists and Goodies

Like the other 2 festivals that I have already attended this one was packed. Some booths it was hard to even get up to see what was being sold. I made the circuit once and tried to take note of where the potters were that I liked their wares – but the first thing I realized was that I did not bring enough Yen. Not nearly enough. I was going to have to stick to my list and try to bargain with the artists in order to make my money go as far as possible. I had read in one of the blogs I ran across that you needed to be careful which stalls you bought from – some are nothing more than commercial manufacturers selling their wares, there is no quality control over who gets a stall. Since I have a personal affinity towards supporting fellow artists I was trying to search out those potters that I could clearly

tell were selling their own work. I really loved the pod vase that I purchased – and no, that wasn’t on my list but I couldn’t resist it – I kept think how beautiful some orange cosmos will look coming out of the pod holes. The artist is shown here and he was so nice, spoke very little English but we made it work. His wife is also a potter and made the chopstick holders that I bought. They had 2 very cute little girls running back and forth and when I asked them if they lived in Seto he pulled out a map to show me where they live – they were so very friendly!

The little bowls I purchased for dipping Soy Sauce were from a young potter – I loved her style and wish I had had more Yen with me … she had some lovely bowls for noodles, maybe next year.

The little leaf dishes I believe are in the Ki-seto ware style – with what looks like maybe burlap pressed into the clay for texture. When we have eaten out here in Japan small dishes like this have been used to serve pickles.

The black bowls I bought (shown at the top) intending to use for rice but hope I didn’t insult the artist when I asked “rice?” When I arrived home and looked up the style of bowl I realized they were probably Matcha bowls used for tea - Oh well, no wonder he had an amused expression on his face – it’s a learning process.

For more information on Seto pottery I would recommend going to :

5 More Pottery Centers To Go

Since Seto is one of the 6 Nihon Rokkoyo, it means I have 5 more to discover before we leave Japan. Good thing I have nearly 3 years to work on that one. There is another pottery center north of Tokyo that is supposed to be fabulous – several of us from the trip yesterday are planning to make our way to that area in the near future.

Recommended Reads

I have to add this book to my list: An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (He is the Booker Prize-winning author who wrote The Remains of the Day). This book takes place post WWII and is about a celebrated Japanese painter and how memories of the past and the rise of Japanese militarism continue to influence his otherwise quiet retirement. It is well written and certainly continues to expand my education on the culture of Japan.

As always, thanks for taking time out to read my blog and keep up with us on our Japanese Odyssey. Till next time, Sayonara.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

An Inauspicious beginning

Monday was Labor Day in the States - and as we are still part of the U.S. but just in another country, there was no school and it is a military holiday. We decided to take advantage of us (Americans) being off and they (Japanese) not and head for the hills. Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and sits on Lake Ashi, one of the 5 lakes surrounding Mt. Fuji. It was an absolutely beautiful day - we headed out in high hopes of actually being able to see Mt. Fuji in full view. But first - we had to get there. By car.

Driving in Japan - It's all your fault
So a little background about driving in Japan. Everything is flipped here - they drive on the left. I normally consider myself a good, cautious driver (precious cargo), I am also a veteran of the DC highways and byways having commuted in and around DC for 7 years, not to mention the countless drives up and down the east coast to visit family in Georgia. I don't get flustered by much behind the wheel - except here. Maybe it's something about my driving class where they told you if you hit anything - it's all your fault; if anything hits you - it's all your fault. If you get stopped by a police man call base security immediately - and whatever you got stopped for "it's all your fault." So we decide that Jeff would be the navigator on this adventure and I would be the driver. Mostly this is for practical purposes - if I try to read directions while he's driving I will hurl (never mind the fact that I always feel like I'm strapped into the death seat when he's behind the wheel). It just works a lot better for our marriage if I'm driving - of course it's probably also some sort of control thing but I'll leave that for a counselor to figure out one day. So back to the driving - Jeff is giving me directions, and trying to navigate with a map that is probably more handicap than helpful - and right off the bat we miss our turn. I mean we're probably not more than 15 minutes from the main gate of the base! But no worries, Jeff with his handicap map guides us through multiple small towns until we reach a road we can take and cut over and hook back up to where we were supposed to be miles ago. I am listening to him and trying to avoid the people on mopeds who like to drive up the side of the road so close to the side of your car that the cars sonar goes off; the cyclists who alternate between riding on the sidewalks and riding on the streets; the pedestrians who when there are no sidewalks also walk in the street and all the while I am repeating my mantra for the day "keep left, keep left, keep left." Somewhere in the middle of all of this I comment to Jeff - "wow, there sure are a lot of policemen out today - I've already seen 5 people stopped." Now you know that little voice we all have in our heads? The one that starts screaming "don't say it"? Yup. I got pulled over. First time driving off base, not 20 minutes from home. Any one with teenagers want to know a really good way to absolutely mortify them? Get pulled over by a cop. In a foreign country. So really, I have no clue what I could possibly have done - other than drive too far below the speed limit because I'm too afraid I'm going to hit someone/something and it will of course "be all my fault." So a bit more education about driving in Japan - not only is it all flipped from what I'm used to after more than 30 years of driving (ouch - that hurts to admit) - once you have your driver's license you are now considered a professional driver. Luckily for me, for the first year you also have a sticker on your car (it's pretty big - 5"x8") that basically screams - new driver, get the hell out of the way!!! It also helps that policeman know that too. Really, he was very nice and knew enough english to tell me what I did wrong (I guess you are supposed to come to a complete stop at all railroad tracks here and look left and look right before crossing - oops). I got off with a caution and a promise to be a safe driver the rest of the day. Mitchell and Walker were probably wishing they could just beam themselves to a different family - or at least have a different mom.

So after that bumpy start we make our way slowly ... and I mean very slowly towards Hakone. The traffic is horrendous. For miles. And miles. Really, you just don't appreciate the things you take for granted on a daily basis until you don't have them any more - like the U.S. Highway system. We were told it would be better to drive than take a train because we would have to take 4 different trains to get to Hakone and the drive is only 2 hours away. Well 4+ hours later and several more missed roads we arrive but it was worth it. Hakone/Lake Ashinoko is lovely and since this was basically a scouting mission for us we definitely plan to go back. We stumbled on a park there (another wrong turn) that sits on the site of the Hakone Imperial Villa - the view of the lake and Mt. Fuji were beautiful.

From there we headed to Yunessun - a hot spring sort of amusement park. This is a bathing suit onsen (hot spring), which is something you need to be clear about here in Japan to avoid any embarrassing incidents like bathing with your kids in your birthday suit. They have numerous hot springs to try out - green tea spa, coffee spa, waterfall spa - but probably our family favorite was the foot spa with the Doctor Fish. These little fish nibble your dead skin away and after the initial strange sensation of having these little guys nibbling on your feet and legs it actually felt pretty good. If you want to check it out go to:

I think I am finally caught up with my weekly blogs. Thanks to all of you who are actually interested enough to email me and find out where/when my next entry will be. Like I said before, the learning curve would be steep for me and between new emails, new internet provider, trying to track down all the camera connections to load photos - well it's been a challenge. My next trip is this Sunday to the Seto Pottery sale - it's a once a year event and the word is to bring a suitcase and packing materials. Oh, and lots of Yen - no credit cards. Sounds like some serious shopping. Will fill everyone in on this next adventure on Monday/Sunday - luckily this time I'm riding a bus! Till next time, sayonara.

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