Monday, October 26, 2009

Mikan Picking


This weekend we were invited to go Mikan picking with a group of families from the base along with Tokiko our Yokosuka Fairy Godmother (Tokiko is the lady who took us on the outing to the Fish Market). We started off with overcast skies, keeping our fingers crossed the weather would hold out. Four cars, caravan style, headed outside the gates for another adventure in Japan.

The Mikan orchard was about a 30 minute drive south of here along the Miura Peninsula. It was an easy drive, passing by Miura Beach where there was a Wind Surfing competition taking place – the wind was strong and those guys were flying across the water. At the top of a hill, just after Miura Beach we all turned off onto a narrow road towards the water. The road was so narrow that a truck headed in our direction “forced” a car ahead of us to back up until the truck could get by. Not far off the main road the caravan pulled into a teeny tiny parking lot where we double parked our cars in order to get us all in. When we all piled out we discovered that just below us, carved out of the side of the hill was the Mikan orchard and off in the distance you could see Kaneda Bay – it was very picturesque. With space so limited, the Japanese seem to be able to fit in fields and orchards where we Americans would probably think it’s not possible. The first photo was taken from the top of the hill, the Iijima Mikan Orchard was just below us.

Honey Citrus

Mikans are Japanese tangerines – also called Satsuma, the seedless mandarin. Closest thing we have back home are Clementines. These little citrus fruits are sweet and delicious and the name translates to “Honey Citrus of Wenzhou” – that should clue you in to just how good they are. The kids all had fun picking them and it’s a good thing they eat the Mikans like candy … we have quite a lot.

Tokiko knows the owners of the farm and so in addition to picking the Mikans we had the added bonus of a side trip to a sweet potato field to dig up our own potatoes. If you notice the first photo from the slide show you can see some fields way off in the distance – towards the water – that’s where the sweet potato field was. We all piled back in our cars and followed the Iijima Orchard guide, winding our way past fields, traditional Japanese houses and then right at the edge of the sweet potato field was a more modern neighborhood. Our kids had fun digging up the potatoes, and the ever efficient and courteous Japanese even had gloves there for everyone to use! Check out the photo of Jeff and Mitchell showing their “catch of the day.”

Kojima Kojin Mocks Me!

Remember how I mentioned in a previous entry how much I loved sweet potatoes? I think Kojima Kojin, the “God of the Cooking Range” decided to have a little fun with me … “Ahhhh, she like sweet potato! Let’s see how much she like!” (I am learning that in Japanese they drop words, because they are inferred, and they have no participles - o.k. I have to confess, I am relearning my English grammar – when our teacher told us “The Japanese language has no participles” I was thinking to myself … “come on Jane, participle, participle … think, think.” Thank goodness the classmate next to me muttered under her breath “now if I can only remember what a participle is” whew, glad to know I wasn’t the only one!). Well, it is true, I do love them but … even someone who loves sweet potatoes has to wonder what in the world she will do with over 20 lbs of Sweet Potatoes (I know, I weighed them). Jeff said we’ll be like Bubba from Forrest Gump … Sweet Potato Pie, Sweet Potato Pudding, Sweet Potato Soup, Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Sweet Potato Crisp, Sweet Potato Balls, … anyone have any “to die for” sweet potato recipes? If you do, email them to me – I’ll be cooking sweet potatoes for quite a while. For more information on Kojima Kojin go to: http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/kitchen-gods.html#sanbou.

Uummmm, does anyone know what these are?

As we were leaving the Mikan picking area we were each handed a bag that contained radishes. Very large radishes. Lots and lots of radishes. Each of us were given a bag of beautifully cleaned radishes – I have 5 bags worth of radishes (see photo)! I’m starting to feel like I need a root cellar. I’m thinking, what in the world will I do with all these radishes? So off to the library I go, checking out 3 Japanese cookbooks to try and figure out different ways I can use these ... I’ll let you know how successful I am.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention – or is it “The Necessary ...”?

The day ended with a stop at a family style restaurant – reminded me of a Japanese type of Denny’s or Big Boy. It was fun – every time I turn around there’s always some unexpected experience. I decided before we headed out that I would visit the ladies room and crack me up! When I entered the personal toilet area all of a sudden I heard a “waterfall sound” and I realized that there must be some type of motion sensor to set off a nature sound to cover well, um, your own nature sound. I just starting laughing – leave it to the Japanese to come up with something like that! I guess when you have so many people living close together they come up with all kinds of ways to be discreet.

Tokiko gave us such a wonderful gift that day. A “thank you” seems inadequate when she opened up another door to the Japanese culture that we wouldn’t normally have, had she not shared her friendship with us. I am truly grateful for the good fortune that has brought her into our lives.

Well, tomorrow I head to Tokyo in the afternoon – will report back if anything interesting pops up – how can it not, in this fascinating country? Till next time, sayonara.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ikebana International


Ikebana International is a nonprofit group that’s aim is to stimulate and cultivate the continuous study and spread of Ikebana; to develop a better understanding of the Japanese people and likewise a better understanding between all nationalities; to strengthen the friendship between Masters, teachers and students; to stimulate international friendship and spread goodwill throughout the world.

Ikebana

From the Ikebana International website IKEBANA is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. It is more than simply putting flowers in a container. It is a disciplined art form in which the arrangement is a living thing where nature and humanity are brought together. It is steeped in the philosophy of developing a closeness with nature.

As is true of all other arts, IKEBANA is creative expression within certain rules of construction. Its materials are living branches, leaves, grasses, and blossoms. Its heart is the beauty resulting from color combinations, natural shapes, graceful lines, and the meaning latent in the total form of the arrangement. IKEBANA is, therefore, much more than mere floral decoration.”

For more information on this beautiful art form go to: http://www.ikebanahq.org/whatis.html

Kita-Kamakura

When a spouse moves to the base here, there is an opportunity to join Ikebana International – they have monthly programs that offer you a chance to get out and experience the culture. Or, if you know someone who is a member, you can attend a monthly program as a guest. This is how I was able to attend the fabulous program offered last week – my friend Kathy asked if I would like to join her and of course I said absolutely! We arrived at the Kita-Kamakura train station and I was surprised to find when I got off the train that this was a tiny stop, in vast contrast to the stations in Tokyo. Back in the states we might call this a one traffic light town (I’m not sure they even had that) – the areas I saw were absolutely charming and there was no doubt as I walked towards the Temple that I was in Japan. We had to walk (imagine that!) up a slight incline to the temple grounds where the program was being held. It was another beautiful Fall day and we headed off – passing lovely traditional Japanese homes with beautiful well manicured gardens and small restaurants with their tempting dishes on display.

Kencho-ji

Kita-Kamakura is the home to the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan, Kencho-ji, and it is the first-ranked of the five great Zen temples of Kamakura. Work on the temple was completed in the fifth year of the Kencho Era (1253), from which the temple takes it’s name. The grounds of Kencho-ji house 10 sub-temples and 10 main buildings. These areas were restored after fires destroyed the buildings in the 14th and 15th centuries. The program was held in the Hojo (main hall) and it is often called the Ryuo-den (Dragon King Hall). The building was first used as the chief priest’s residence, but it is now used in the performance of religious services.

Kadou Honnoji

There are many different schools of Ikebana. Here on base, there are two different styles of classes offered at the community center where you can work with a master sensi (teacher) who has been trained and received certification in their respective schools. The Ikebana demonstration at the Kencho-ji was being performed by Tenshin Nakano – and when I say performed, I mean it - he stretched out his arms holding various organic pieces clipping away like Edward Scissorshand, until he had achieved the shape in mind or he used his clippers to score horizontal lines on the branches and then pressed them to his head until the form was reached and we could hear the branches cracking as he worked to achieve the arc of the branch he was seeking. He also used his metal clippers to sound out a beat while he was mulling over a piece before placing it in the container - reminding me of the chefs at the Japanese hibachi restaurants who perform with their knives. It was like no flower arranging demonstration I'd ever witnessed and Mr. Tenshin Nakano was the most theatrical flower arranger I’ve ever seen! He is from Kyoto and is the son and grandson of famous flower masters of the Kadou Honnoji School of Ikebana. There had to be absolute silence and no photos while he created the five different arrangements. After all 5 arrangements were completed he opened up the floor to questions and from that I scribbled down notes as quickly as I could – he was asked "what does he think of while he is creating his work?" and his response was as follows (now, this was through a translator so if I’ve lost something in translation I apologize to the artist):

The first arrangement he thought of a Dragon and he used rikka, which is the oldest style of Ikebana.


The second arrangement, he was thinking of the branch of heaven (highest branch), the branch of man (middle), finally the branch of Earth (lowest).

The third arrangement was about opposites – bringing the green line over the black surface.


The fourth was about how everything is inter-connected, we are all dependent on each other and cannot stand alone.


The final piece was in a transparent (glass/crystal) vase and so he said that because you can see through the vase you have to put something in it – in this case, a lot of leaves and to counter that he only used a single branch. A root was twirled and placed over the side – Tenshin Nakano said that this style of Ikebana always contains an old root.

With more visual treats swimming in my head the group moved to the second floor of an adjoining building where we sat on tatami mats and ate at the traditional low tables. We had a bento box lunch which was delicious.

I found the program to be very entertaining and I certainly learned a lot – I was inspired by the art form of Ikebana and the setting was lovely. As luck would have it, one of my neighbors had already asked if I would be interested in joining her Ikebana group that meets once a month. Her sensi teaches the traditional school, Ikenobo, and with that in mind I left Kita-Kamakura in high spirits, knowing that very soon I would be beginning a new creative journey - learning the traditional Japanese art form of Ikebana. Till next time, sayonara.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Yamato Shrine Sale

On the third Saturday of the month a Shrine Sale is held in Yamato near the train station. This is about an hours drive from the Yokosuka area (if you leave early) – and early did we leave! 6:30 a.m. was the pick up time, as four fellow Navy spouses headed outside the gates for another adventure in Japan.

Shrine sales are a lot like our flea markets back home – only much, much better. If you plan to visit Japan and looking at interesting items from another culture sounds like fun – I would highly recommend including a trip to a shrine sale. There are many shrine sales but all of them have their own schedule – I counted at least seven in the Tokyo area on varying days of the month.

The Yamato Shrine Sale is the favorite of many in the Yokosuka area – there were many vendors (I didn’t count but I would estimate over 100), selling all kinds of different items. I really didn’t have anything on my list – I was more curious than anything. It was an absolutely beautiful Fall morning and so, equipped with Yen (no credit cards), a shopping bag and a piece of paper with 2 key phrases I set off to search for treasures.

Gateway to purchases: “Sumimasen, Ikura Deska?” “Kaite Kudasai”

There was so much to look at – buttons (now that’s bad … I have a penchant for buttons, even with no sewing machine for three years I could envision just what I’d use all those very cool buttons for), kimonos – tons of kimonos. Kimonos on hangers, kimonos folded and stacked neatly in piles, kimonos piled up on the ground (see photo). I saw an American woman looking through kimonos at one of the vendors and stopped and asked her, how does she know what she’s looking at? There are more kimonos to look at than you could get through in one day. Apparently the hierarchy goes something like this: hanging – very good quality more Yen, folded on tables – good quality but there may be a spot not as much Yen; on the ground in a pile – you are going to cut these up and use the fabric for something else very inexpensive. Shockingly I stayed away from the Kimonos – I am in no rush, with very limited storage space and no sewing machine I decided to wait and learn more about Kimonos. There are cotton, polyester, and silk Kimonos with such a wide range of prices that without guidelines I could see I would get overwhelmed quickly wading through the rainbow of colors and textures. There were many vases of varying sizes, dishes, cups, tools, really just about anything you could imagine – many of which I had no clue what the heck they were for but no worries, I will be on a quest to find out! Not that I’ll use it for the original intended purpose but if I end up buying a Japanese bedpan thinking it’s a vase then I’d kind of like to know that! I’m all about repurposing.

The plan was to scope first and buy later (after checking everything out) but of course I didn’t even get to the half way point before that plan was blown out of the water. Equipped with my precious piece of paper – I whipped out my “gateway to purchases” and looking at my paper asked “Sumimasen, Ikura desuka?” (excuse me, how much?) as I pointed to a pretty blue and white vase. I think she got the sumimasen part (excuse me) but after that there was no connection – mmmm, guess we know who needs to work quite a bit more on her Japanese. So instead, I handed her the piece of paper that my Japanese Conversation teacher had written down for me along with a pen and said “Kaite Kudasai” (please write it down). I then received the response I was hoping for “Hai, 1000 Yen” – so Yen was exchanged and I didn’t break the bank on my first purchase and I have a pretty little vase. Yeah! Empowered, I moved on in search of more “must haves.”

One Persons Trash is Another Persons Treasure

I am not sure if we’ll have that saying on my dad’s grave marker (certainly not if he’s sharing it with my mom!) but at the very least it needs to go in his obit. My gene pool apparently missed out on the beautifully decorated house and food presentation skills (sorry Jeff) but it most definitely did not miss the “trash pickers” gene. Even my mom would have to reluctantly admit my dad has found some real treasures on the side of the road in someone elses trash pile. He has the eye for potential. While I’m not sure if I have that gift (jury is still out on that one) I do love rummaging through piles of well, apparent trash to find that one piece of treasure. So which picture do you think I plucked my pretty little vase from? The nicely lined up selection of various vases and pottery or the piles of stuff overflowing on the table? You decide.

One down – twelve to go!

By car or by train there are at least twelve more shrine sales within a reasonable distance to Yokosuka. Before we leave I plan to hit every one of them – at least once. It was great fun looking at all the different wares and getting to the shrine sale early was key. By the time we left, close to noontime, the aisles were packed. Yes, I did make a few more purchases – and I started on my Japanese button collection, buttons don’t take up much space or weight. Now that’s thinking like someone who’s moved more that a few times! Till next time, sayonara.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Shibori Seeker


Tuesday, after the meeting at Tadodai Residence, a friend and I took the train to Kamakura in search of a gallery that was having an exhibit of some shibori work. For those of you who are still trying to catch up with us – I was a studio artist in Norfolk at the Hermitage Foundation Museum and Gardens for the last two years. The focus of my work was based on a Japanese technique called Shibori – where you manipulate fabric through stitching, binding, folding and then dye it. I will be a seeker for the next three years to find fellow shibori artists and with any luck take some classes or study with a master. On a previous outing to Kamakura my friend and Yoda, Kathy, spotted a poster hanging up that appeared to advertise an exhibit. We could figure out the dates and times of the gallery but the one thing we did not know was where the show was located. So I took a picture of it and had one of the interns that works with Jeff translate the information – she was nice enough to include directions from the train station to the gallery. So with my information in hand, Kathy and I set off to find the exhibit. To set everyone straight - Kathy is NOT old like Yoda (and I have to put this out there because she reads my blog and will be all over my case for calling her a Yoda) - I am referring to her seemingly endless knowledge on all the cool things to do here in Japan. This is her second tour here in Japan and I count myself as extremely fortunate to have hooked in with her (or maybe I latched onto her?) - she has included me in numerous outings and managed to guide me in joining the groups she thought I'd get the most out of while here in Japan. She has been a Godsend.

Left means Right

We immediately sensed that we had made a wrong turn coming out of the station – standing on the street looking like confused American tourists we spied a immaculately dressed older woman watching us (Lord only knows what she was thinking – crazy American women) … so I went up and asked if she spoke English and pointing to my directions, did she know where the gallery was located. She responded in perfect English, was very gracious and said she would take us back in the right direction. Now setting off on the correct path, we still had to find the gallery – we ended up standing in front of the poster where I took the picture. I proceeded to approach anyone passing and said “English? Gallery?” as I pointed to the poster, trying to give my best Vanna White impression. Soon enough a young lady said in again, perfect English, “I speak English and I’ll take you to the gallery.” Score!

Beautiful Art

The Gallery was small but the work was stunning. I am totally kicking myself now that I did not ask if I could take some pictures. The show was the work of four women, some of the techniques I have explored but some I have not. One of the artists spoke a bit of English and I asked her if she would consider teaching me – I have contacted her and I’m waiting for her reply (keep your fingers crossed for me).

Do Japanese calories count the same in English?











Kathy has been raving about a French restaurant that serves “THE BEST” coffee in Japan and it is located in Kamakura – and as it turns out is not far from the gallery. She and I stopped in for absolutely divine waffles with delicious coffee. I took pictures, although something is lost in the translation – the cafĂ© au lait came in two different pitchers and you mixed it yourself. Once again, the care with presentation here is great eye candy. The waffles were fabulous, I’ll be coming back here for sure – after I resume a very intense work out regime!

It was quite the busy day between Tadodai Residence in the morning and Kamakura in the afternoon. The rest of the week had a couple more outings planned – check back in on the blog as I try to get caught up. Till next time, sayonara.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tadodai Official Residence

Tuesday of this week I went to my first JAW meeting, which was held at the Tadodai Official Residence. I know, what’s JAW? In case you haven’t picked up on it yet (or have been sleeping through all of my blogs) the military seems to love acronyms. And apparently the trickle down effect is that the military spouse organizations use them too. Personally, I dislike the use of acronyms – I mean who wants to be in an organization that’s members are women and it could be pronounced “jaws”? Well, it’s not a bunch of women “jawing off” about being a military spouse – it instead stands for the Japanese American Wives group. It is an intercultural group “… to promote lasting friendships between Japanese and American women and increase intercultural understanding.” I belong to the conversation group which meets twice a month and our first meeting was Tuesday, hosted by the Japanese at the Tadodai Residence.

Tadodai Residence History

Tadodai Official Residence was built in 1913 as the official residence for the Commander-in-Chief of Yokosuka Naval Station. The Baron and Lady Uryuu collaborated with architect, Mr. Kotaro Sakurai, on the design of this official residence. Baron Sotokichi Uryuu was a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and at the time of the collaboration was a Vice Admiral and Commander-in-Chief of Yokosuka Naval Station. Lady Uryuu was one of a group of female students selected by the Japanese Government in 1871 to study in the United States. She graduated from Barstow College in 1881. Mr. Sakurai was a graduate of the Architectural Department of London University and was the first Japanese authorized to wear the title of British Certified Architect.

The residence has two styles of buildings, Western and Japanese. Upon completion, the residence became known for it’s unique design of American colonial and English decorations. If you notice in one of the photos taken from the garden you can see that the front part of the house is Western and the back part traditional Japanese.

By the end of World War II, 34 Commanders-in-Chiefs had lived at the residence. After the war the residence was taken over by the U.S. Occupation Forces and nine U.S. Naval Forces Commanders lived there until 1964, when the residence was transferred to the Japan Defense Agency.

Tadodai Residence is now used for a variety of official functions such as receptions for high ranking officials and cherry blossom viewing parties.

JAW

The Japanese side of the Japanese American Wives Conversation group hosted our first meeting of the year. I was eager to attend at the Tadodai Residence as my parents have a friend who actually lived there while his father was CFAY (here we go again … Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka). Mr. McManes had sent me an email with some background information on his time while spent living at the Residence. It was a beautiful fall day and I was again getting “outside the gate.” Never having been to a JAW meeting, I wasn’t really sure what to expect – we initially started off with each of us picking up an information card for each member that we put into a little photo book. These were actually a great idea – I immediately found that two of the Japanese ladies are quilters and was able to speak with one of them during the social side of the meeting. There was then a game – I have been told that the Japanese love games – this was one where there were a number of questions and if you answered one way you were on one side of the room and another way you stood on the other side. I was still in the running with the game with quite a number of American wives until they question was would you rather have steak or sushi? Well, no brainer for me since I don’t eat red meat – and so I landed with a whole bunch of Japanese ladies and one other American – we out numbered the meat eaters and I ended up being one of the winners! It was lots of fun. Then came the social part and they had a wide assortment of goodies – and I was in heaven. The Japanese apparently like sweet potatoes – a lot. I’ve already mentioned my love of the baked sweet potato soft serve ice cream in a previous entry. Well I think over half of the sweets being offered at the meeting were “sweet potato something” and they were delicious. What more could a southern girl want in Japan but sweet potato desserts and sweet tea (which they did have – yeah!).

Afterwards we wandered the grounds, which were lovely. I have been told that if you can get invited to the Cherry Blossom Viewing the Japanese hold at Tadodai Residence to attend – it is beautiful. Well the garden was a treat and I hope that before we leave I can come back and see it with the Cherry Blossoms in full bloom.

That concluded our first meeting. It was very fun – although I believe I need to work more on my Japanese. Pretty much all I can do is introduce myself and say thank you. The conversation part of this day was heavy on the English for my part.

The day was not over for me – my next entry is on my afternoon trip back to Kamakura. I just can’t seem to get enough of that town! Till next time, Sayonara.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tokyo – First Impressions


This weekend was a 3-day holiday and so we decided to take advantage of the time off and head to Tokyo. We totally lucked out and were able to stay at the New Sanno – which is a military hotel. It is very nice and I can see why they book up a year in advance. It is conveniently located to the Tokyo metro and that is how we got around plus – you guessed it lots and lots of walking. You know how when you have babies you bronze their first baby shoes? I just may have to bronze my Dansko’s by the time we leave Japan – I brought along my 2 pairs and they got a hefty work out.

Ginza - Silver Mint

The name Ginza means “silver mint.” From 1600 to 1812 this area was the sight of a silver coin mint. This is also the world’s most expensive real estate, where one square meter of land in the district’s center is worth more than ten million yen (more than 100,000 US dollars at today’s rate).

The first day we arrived we hit the Ginza Shopping area. Now let me just put this out there – we are not a family of shoppers. I swear Jeff made some sort of in-utero pack with our children about shopping – they hate it. Even as little kids just about all I could ever do was window shop – if the stroller slowed down they all hit the freak out button. Not sure what he promised them but it must be something really, really good. They were however, all willing to make an exception to the no shopping pack and seemed to be more than ready to hit the 4-story Apple Store. This store was very cool, even had a theatre where there were ongoing workshops. There were no buttons in the elevator – it just went up and down, stopping at each floor so you, the customer, could step off and immerse yourself in the latest technology. It was Saturday and it was packed but we still managed to find the few things that were on our hit list.

After making our purchases we headed out to walk the main street – the Chuo Dori. On the weekends it is closed to traffic and becomes a pedestrian zone. If you are a serious shopper you could do some major damage on this street - Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Hermes, Cartier, Prada and of course Mikimoto – where I stood outside and just drooled. And, just for the record, my husband already gave me a beautiful strand of Mikimoto’s years ago that I treasure. For some women, I guess their thing is diamonds, for me it is pearls. I absolutely love pearls and so a girl can stand there and dream … like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

We heard the clock tower chime from the Wako Department Store. I’d like to go back and see the building along with sneak in a visit to the 6th floor where they have an Art Gallery (shhhh, don’t tell the kids). This is the only building in Ginza that survived the bombings during WWII and it housed the Military PX during the reconstruction period. There is also the Hakuhinkan Toy Park which has the latest and greatest toys (eye candy) and the Sony building which would keep the techies in my house happy.

From Ginza we headed back to the New Sanno and then Jeff took the kids out to an observation tower. It was a beautiful day and they said the view was “awesome.” I just needed some chill time and opted to hang at the hotel and enjoy the silence.

Museums, Metros and Harajuku

Sunday we ventured back out with metro map in hand. Jeff and I are used to the DC Metro system – which is pretty darn simplistic compared to the extensive Tokyo Metro. It definitely took some checking and double checking on all our parts to make sure we were on the right platform – but I will give the Japanese credit. All the signage has English, even the metro fare card kiosk has English so it’s not that difficult to get around – and two separate times we had people come up and ask us if we needed help.

The first stop on our marathon day was the Edo-Tokyo Museum. This is a fabulous museum and should be on everyone’s must see list if they are coming to Tokyo – they have English headsets you can use and 2 out of the 3 Cleary kids said this was the highlight of our first trip to Tokyo (yeah! A museum scored a hit). They have 2 sections pre-WWII the Edo era and post WWII – reconstruction. There was so much to absorb that I will have to go back – by the time I hit the reconstruction era my brain was in overload. If you are curious – check out their website http://www.edo-tokyo-museum.or.jp/english/index.html. As luck would have it for me, there is currently a special exhibit going on Japanese woodblock prints – and yes, I made my family go. They owe me … when anyone starts to complain all I have to say is “Civil War battlefields.” It is a fabulous exhibit – I only wish they had English translations, I would have gotten much more from it. The exhibit is in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery which houses one of the world’s largest woodblock collections. Jeff even admitted the video showing the process was very cool – 42 different wood blocks to make this one print!

Harajuku

From the museum we cut across Tokyo on one of the trains to Harajuku Station. Takeshita Dori Street, also called Teenager Street by locals, is the street for looking at the shops that sell Harajuku fashions and doing some major people watching. On Sunday’s teenagers dress up in a variety of styles from babydoll cute to something like Goth Lolita – it’s a fashion style all it’s own and you have to see it to get it. There were many, many teenagers dressed up – I just couldn’t get up the nerve to ask them for a photo but if you want to take a look at the style (or get an idea for Halloween) check out http://www.mookychick.co.uk/style/harajuku_girls.php. The street was packed – probably with as many teenagers as tourists. Squished bodies as the masses flowed down the street. There was nothing do to except throw ourselves in there – with Wrenn and I holding hands in a death grip. It was certainly interesting, but I think I’m good with crossing that off our list and moving on – to let’s say a Japanese garden or shrine.

Our first experience in Tokyo was certainly busy but fun. The city is absolutely pristine – no trash. Oh, that’s one thing you should know if you’re planning to visit – there are no trash cans in public (you will find them outside of quick mart places where you are expected to sort your trash into the appropriate recycling container). You are supposed to carry your trash home. I am not sure that concept would work back in the states – but I can tell you it works here. The streets and cities are spotless. And another thing, no one eats in public – you may spot people eating in a park but walking along the street eating let’s say a Big Mac, would have people stopping and looking at you. And cell phones … ahhh – I love this – it is against the law to talk on your cell phones on the trains! I cannot begin to tell you how many annoying conversations I had to listen to while commuting on the Metro in DC – like I care what you did with your boyfriend last night (and I bet the rest of the train doesn’t either). There are many things about Japan that I appreciate – I guess when you have as many people as they do crammed into a small area they have to figure out ways to be considerate. And, it works.

I have a busy week ahead with several outings so look for a few more entries. Till next time, sayonara.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Outside the Gate

This week I had a couple of adventures outside the gate. We are not locked in here on base, we can freely come and go as we please (just don’t forget your ID) but I’ve been told it is really easy to find yourself staying within the confines of “Little America.” And I can easily see how that can happen – the kids all go to school on base, the commissary is here, the Navy Exchange, there are fast food restaurants - not that we go to them but I guess if we were desperate for some high calorie low nutrient food we would have any number of choices - McDonald’s, Dunkin’Donuts, Sbarro, Subway, Long John Silvers, A&W, Cinnabon. There’s a movie theatre, a bowling alley, a dry cleaners, library. Really all our needs are right here – it’s like living in a company town – now that’s sort of scary. So after realizing that a week ago, I hadn’t been off base the entire week I decided that if someone asked me if I wanted to go on an outing my answer will always be “yes, I’d love to.”

A neighbor of ours, Charlotte, has a student, Tokiko, that she teaches English. Tokiko offered to take us - Charlotte, Judy (another Navy spouse new to Japan), and myself on a fieldtrip down the Miura peninsula to the Misaki fish market and then out for lunch. I was heading to an area where I had not yet been and I had a Japanese guide! It was raining and dreary but I did not care – I was going to have someone with me that knew the language and could explain things to me, and more importantly – I was going outside the gate. This was going to be a great day – just the type of experience I wanted to have here in Japan.

Charlotte has been here 3.5 years – they will leave this summer after 4 years in Japan. She drives like a pro, so there is hope for me yet. I was glad to be a passenger and have a chance to listen to Tokiko and Charlotte talk about the areas we were driving through – we drove by small farms that grow radish and cabbage and coastal areas – the terrain is hilly and the roads winding, except for the humidity it reminds me a lot of the west coast up by San Francisco. Tokiko grew up in the area where we were going and told us there are Mikan (Japanese tangerines) orchards that you can go and pick in the Fall – sounds like a future road trip to me.

When we arrived at the Misaki fish market it was after 10 a.m. – the morning rush was over but as you can see by the pictures there was plenty to look at. The different stalls had samples and the vendors were insistent that you try their wares. My favorite of the day was the tuna cooked in shoyu (soy sauce) – the tuna just melted in your mouth. We tried seaweed noodles, which were actually quite good, and a type of dumpling that had tuna inside. Probably the most interesting item I tried was from a little Japanese lady who was quite the sales person – she cracked me up, very insistent that we try her well, I’m not sure what exactly it was. I know it contatined seaweed and sesame seeds, the other ingredient … well lets just say the less time looking at it the better – they had eyes. You are supposed to mix it in with your rice and so, what the heck, I bought some to take home and try out on the family! Truthfully, it wasn’t bad and how could I resist the saleswoman? She was this little Japanese lady - her skin was all wrinkled and brown from the sun - very enthusiastic, grinning and just grabbed my hand and plopped down a sample in my palm and declared "you try!" After making several more purchases, we headed out of the market to a traditional Japanese restaurant. Never in a million years would I have stepped into this place on my own – it was down a small alleyway off the main street. Tokiko is a member of the Rotary in the Misaki area and this restaurant is a Rotary member – it apparently helps to have connections. As you can see by the photo, upon entering you needed to take off your shoes in an entrance area – no worries though because there were plenty of slippers to choose from lined up and waiting! We went upstairs and entered a traditional Japanese room with tatami mats on the floor and the low tables, chabudai. Tokiko showed me how to fold over the floor pillow so that I could sit up a bit and not have to fold my legs under me – good thing because I’m not sure my knees would have ever recovered. Tokiko ordered all kinds of dishes for us – and showed us how to eat some of the items – like wrapping the radish in a type of Japanese style basil leaf with wasabi and some tuna. It was all delicious – I am discovering I really love Japanese food, beyond the Americanized version I had back in the States.

When the food arrived I was the stereotypical Japanese tourist in reverse. I get it now. All the times I saw the Japanese in D.C. with their cameras taking pictures of everything, well I’ve become one of them. It’s all so culturally different, I feel like a kid walking into a toy store – I just want to take it all in. I think I amused my lunch mates since I took photos of everything before we dove in but they were good sports and let me have at it with my camera. I am continually amazed at the care the Japanese take in presenting their food. It is truly an art and being a visual person, I can’t seem to get enough. I think of my survival dinners I throw on the plates at home and cringe – there is nothing even remotely considered about presentation, just food on a plate. I may need to work on that one … someday.

I am also fascinated with this whole shoe/no-shoe experience. For instance when we arrived at the restaurant we took off our street shoes and slipped on the slippers. When we were at the entrance to the room where we would be eating you take off your slippers and walk in your socks or bare feet to your table. Toward the end of the meal I went to the ladies room – which thank goodness was a Western style toilet. I just had to crack up – you take off the slippers before entering the toilet room and put on the “toilet slippers” while conducting your business. Where else in the world would you do this except in Japan! Definitely worthy of a photo.

Tokiko was generous almost to a fault. She not only gave up a day to take three American women to the fish market she treated us to lunch as well. I was horrified that she paid for my lunch but she was insistent – and I’m starting to understand that it is their honor to do this. As my grandparents used to tell me when I’d fuss at them for treating - “it gives us pleasure.” This open generosity has given me much to consider. I think back – especially while living in D.C. – and realized that while I hope I was never rude to anyone visiting from another country, I certainly never went out of my way to help them (although I do know I helped more than my fair share of tourists lost in the Metro stations – but they were Americans). I guess the lesson learned here for me is to be more aware and helpful, to remember that nice gets nice, to be gracious and be a good ambassador. The Japanese I’ve encountered so far, live the word of being an ambassador for their country everyday. They have been helpful and generous and courteous - from the toll booth attendant in Hakone who sent out 2 different people to give us printed directions and get us on the right path, to the 7-11 clerk who fished out of my hand the correct change, to Tokiko who shared part of her day with us - giving me the gift of experiencing Japan outside the gate. And for that, as a foreigner, I am truly grateful. Till next time, sayonara.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Clunker or Junker?

Many of you have asked “did you get to ship your cars?” The short answer is no. The military does not ship cars to Japan, which truthfully does make a lot of sense. I can’t even begin to imagine driving our Suburban on these roads! And yes, while I try to be Green in just about everything I do, my one earthwise vice would be that I drive a Suburban. With three active kids and a dog it was the choice that worked for us. Not that I’ll always be driving it, one day I’ll be in an energy efficient hybrid, but for the time being our contribution to being Green is we took that baby off the road and put it in storage for 3 years. Jeff’s orders enabled us to put one car into storage and given the choice we decided to sell his Honda and store the “Cleary bus.”

So what do you do when you get here? Good question. The base is relatively easy to get around, the train system here in Japan could probably get you to just about anywhere you want to go and then there’s always your bike. So you could certainly make do without a car here. But with kids and sports, I will have to admit it is convenient at times to have a car. I do ride Jeff’s bike around a lot. If I have to go outside the gate to the closest shopping area, I ride the bike – it’s faster and for many of the shopping areas there is no parking available.

Shaken

In Japan you are required to have a mandatory vehicle inspection, called Shaken, when your car is 3 years old and then every 2 years after that. The cost of the inspection goes up with the age of your car – so many Japanese prefer to get rid of their older cars rather than pay for higher vehicle inspections. These older cars show up on the U.S. military bases all over Japan – because unlike the Japanese, we as citizens of the United States apparently are exempt from the Shaken. So it is an interesting way to buy a car – everyday new cars show up on the Lemon Lot here on base. When you’re in the market for a car you go by every day hoping that something will show up on the lot that you can live with driving for the time you’re here. You are buying from an individual – not the Navy – and the cars do have to pass a safety inspection before being sold here on base. Aside from that it’s really a crapshoot. You are going on what works for your family and hoping that you choose wisely. They offer free pick up for junkers on base – that should give you some idea of the quality of the cars we American’s drive around here. It’s like we’re the final clearinghouse for Japan’s unwanted cars before they hit the recycle pile (yet, another blog entry to come – Japan recycles everything). The upside to this is there is no pressure to keep up with the Joneses.

Clunker?

Well, Jeff and I are certainly hoping our choices are clunkers and not junkers. The Nissan Bassara that we bought as our family car started making an unidentifiable clanking sound from the rear almost as soon as we drove it off the lot. Bemoaning the fact that there’s no AAA here in Japan to a friend I found out that in fact there is a Japanese version. I will be going to the office this week to get us signed up. Stranded on the side of the road in a country where so far all I can say is excuse me = sumimasen; good morning = ohayoo gozaimas; good afternoon = konnichiwa; goodbye = sayonara; my name is jane cleary = Watishi wa Cleary Jane des; I am not sure I would get very far with help on the side of the road, but at least I could politely introduce myself! Jeff did make sure I have the base security number programmed into my cell phone – so if I am in dire straights they should be able to at least get a translator on the line and help me out. So with that confidence boosting information – I continue to drive the pathways I am only familiar with – basically driving Wrenn back and forth to her weekend soccer practices.

Tolls

Most Japanese Nationals do not drive for one simple reason. It is expensive. Here is an example – on Saturday, Wrenn and Walker had a cross-country meet in Tama Hills. Not terribly far from here – just over an hour drive unless you get lost like we’ve done twice now going out there (a GPS is no longer looking like a luxury item but a necessity). We paid 2Yen at the first toll, 9Yen at the second, 1.5Yen at the third – oops, we missed the exit so we get to circle back and pay another toll – 1 Yen. That’s over 25Yen round trip (roughly $25). Ouch. Not counting gas. If we can take a train I would prefer to – but some places, like where we were going Saturday, can be challenging to get to with all the train transfers. So we continue to get in the car, fight unbelievable traffic, pay tolls every time you turn around and try your best to remember to fill up the tank before driving off base. Gas on base is still higher than what we’re used to back in the states but nothing like what we’d be paying for outside the gates.

Hopefully that clears up some of the questions re: our cars. Anything else you all are dying to know about just shoot me an email and I’ll try my best to get you an answer. Keep all the positive feedback coming! Till next time, sayonara.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Unconditional Love


I am a dog person. I love them, grew up with them and our family life would be very different without our faithful canine Kenda. Our kids are crazy about her. She is an 80lb yellow lab, I swear she sheds half her body weight everyday (born-to-shed dogs as one of my friends said), thinks everyone that comes to our house is there to play with her and is as sweet as can be – the last part is what pretty much saves her doggy butt day in and day out and is why we couldn’t imagine coming to Japan without her. Remember that email that requested volunteers for Peds billets back in March of 2008? Well, I made the appointment at our vet the next day to start the paperwork process – not even knowing whether we would ultimately have order to go overseas.

We had been told by numerous friends that bringing a dog to Japan was a nightmare. It requires 6 months of quarantine and flight arrangements that would give you ulcers. Some of it lived up to the warnings but thankfully not all. I had more paperwork on our dog coming to Japan than all 3 of our children combined. I’m not kidding.

People who have pets and are stationed Japan make all sorts of arrangements to get their pets here. They come ahead and leave the animal behind with friends or relatives while they work their way through the 6 month process – and then they either fly back to get the pet or they have them put on a plane unaccompanied and cross their fingers that “it’ll all work out.” We had heard too many nightmare scenarios about unaccompanied pets on flights and I knew one thing for sure there was no way I was going on that flight half way around the world again – so come hell or high water Kenda was coming with us.

It’s not like I was trying to process Kenda to Japan totally blind – I did have a 10 page document that is available from the Japan District Veterinary Command and it does outline what you are supposed to have completed prior to having your pet enter the country. Here is the rundown:

  1. Dog has to have an AVID Microchip. $$$
  2. First inactivated rabies vaccine with AVID Microchip number noted on Rabies Certificate $$
  3. At least 30 days later second Inactivated rabies booster vaccine administered. $$
  4. At least 30 days after rabies booster vaccine a FAVN blood test is sent off to one of only 2 facilities in the U.S. $$
  5. 40 days prior to entry into Japan you must notify the Japanese Govt with the “Notification for Import of Dogs” – with a Flight Number and arrival date (remember this detail in future blog entry).
  6. No more than 10 days prior to arrival in Japan you are required to obtain a USDA Certification. This entails several steps and since we were in transit between leaving Norfolk and flying out of Atlanta within this 10-day time frame it was a bit more complicated. Our vet in Norfolk, Dr. Gerlach, had been working with us to get Kenda overseas – and for all he helped me through this process I will be forever grateful. He filled out the forms Quarantine Form A, Quarantine Form C 1/2 and 2/2 so that the vet in Atlanta would only have to do a final clinical examination 3 days prior to our departure to meet the USDA requirements. $$$

Parents – you’re never too old to need them

Let me just put this right out there – I have great parents. Even though I suspect that my mom secretly wished that somehow this whole overseas move would fall apart right up until the moment we set foot on the plane, my parents never said a word (at least to me) and instead offered to help me in any way they could. Even offered to take care of Kenda while I was trying to get us packed out of Norfolk. That’s huge when you haven’t had a dog for 20+ years and your home always looks like Southern Living is stopping by for a photo shoot (I think Jeff continually wonders how I missed out on that gene pool trait). I bet they are still trying to dehair the place. The game plan was for my dad to take Kenda to the vet we had taken all of our dogs to when I was growing up, for her final clinical examination. This was taking place while I was temporarily homeless traveling through the state of Virginia picking up kids from various summer camps making my way to Atlanta. Upon arrival in Georgia I would go to the USDA office, 2 days before our flight, with all of the above forms in hand to get the final precious piece of paperwork with the official embossed stamp that would allow Kenda to come with us – the U.S. Interstate and International Certificate of Health Examination for Small Animals.

Best Laid Plans …

The USDA office in Atlanta is in Conyers – not exactly around the corner from where my parents live. It’s a trek. Not having been out that way in years, my dad offers to go with me and as it turns out this was a very good thing. We arrive at our scheduled appointment time, with documentation in hand feeling quite sure that all was right with the world. I’d double/triple checked the forms, taken the paperwork to the Vet Clinic on base in Norfolk for them to review, had 2 different vets helping me get all the information in the correct boxes. So I confidently handed over the paperwork thinking great, I can check this off my list, we’re outta here and I’m already mentally figuring out what the next thing is I have to do before our flight leaves in 48 hours when Meta the USDA clerk said “I have bad news (this is where I got that really awful sinking feeling in my stomach and she sounded like she was talking from the other end of a very long dark tunnel) – two of the items on the forms are incorrect and we cannot process your dogs paperwork.” Not exactly what I was hoping to hear and that was probably about the time that all the stress of the last 7 months hit me like a train engine. I just lost it. There was not a thing I could do to hold back the tidal wave of tears.

So a couple of notable things happen here 1) Meta is a government worker but stop right there – I know what you’re thinking … but she is not the stereotypical government worker - she is really, really nice and she is my USDA Angel. She could have said “sorry, your problem, you fix it, make another appointment, neeeeexxxxt” but instead she actually helps me. She in fact goes out of her way to help me and by a stroke of good luck she points out that this is all fixable – the vet in Norfolk flipped around the information for one of the rabies vaccines on Form C 1/2 (they all have to match) and the vet in Atlanta signed a document in the wrong place on Form C 2/2. She contacts the vet in Norfolk to have them fax a corrected Form C 1/2 – which thank goodness the USDA can accept a fax – while my dad helps take care of the correcting the second form – which has to be an original signature. 2) One of my dad’s great traits is that he’s a “fixer” – he’s the type of person when something is broken he can figure out a way to make it right. He’s also not one to overreact to much of anything – and so my dad pretty much takes over, asks how we can fix this and tells me not to worry – we’ll get it straightened out. This is exactly what I need to hear – snaps me back to reality and we set off to head back half way around the city of Atlanta to Dunwoody to get the vet there to sign Form C 2/2 in the correct spot. My dad then drives the original back to Conyers to get the USDA Health Certificate while my mom drives down to pick me up so that I can go back to their house where I continue to repack all the kids bags after defunking them from the various camps.

“So, what are you doing?”

In the middle of driving around Atlanta I get a call from Jeff – from Japan. It is always a red flag for me when he starts off a phone call “so what are you doing?” … I know it’s not going to be good whatever it is. I’m never quite sure what he wants to hear … “oh, nothing, I’m just sitting around waiting for your call so I have something to do” vs “I’m in the middle of cleaning toilets, unloading the dishwasher that the kids forgot to unload this morning and cleaning up dog poo because the kids forgot to do a poop sweep yesterday.” Whatever it is he’s hoping to hear, I already know what I’m going to hear – I’ll need to stop what ever I’m in the middle of and take care of something now. It seems that some paperwork that was required to have our car put in storage was not submitted – could I fax the information IMMEDIATELY to the POV (Personal Owned Vehicle) office in Norfolk? Otherwise our car would not be able to be put in storage for the three years we’ll be in Japan. You’re kidding me right? Let me take care of that just as soon as I evacuate my parents home because of a fire …

Gee that siren seems awfully close

Mom and I arrive back at their home, while my sister is picking up my three kids to get them out of my way so I can continue the pack out. My room looks like it imploded. There are piles everywhere. Clean clothes folded and stacked on the bed – organized by child. Boyscout packbacks in the hall, crammed with the boys gear from scout camp. A very large dog crate, with stickers/flight information/documents taped to 4 sides, sitting in their dining room. 4 carry on bags line a wall. 8 suitcases sit open waiting for me to continue to stuff belongings into. Laptop is open and sitting on the floor and that’s where the story picks up – I’m attempting to send off the info to the POV office and Jeff but it’s not working - my parents have been having problems with their internet server ever since I arrived. I am sitting there basically swearing at the computer while I’m trying yet again to get connected when I hear sirens, and then loud knocking, and then Kenda is going nuts barking and then my mom yells to me “Jane, we have to get out - there’s a fire in the units next door!”

They say fires move very quickly, but I’d never actually been near one, up close and personal. It was astounding just how quickly the three units next to my parents went up in flames. They live in a small community with the units attached in groups of three – they were lucky, it was the next grouping over from them but there’s not much space separating the units and as a safety precaution the fire department had us evacuate. My mom and I are standing with Kenda watching as three fire engines, an ambulance, an emergency vehicle all pull into their small complex with a news helicopter circling overhead. As the flames are leaping from the roof in the unit next door (no I’m not being dramatic – they really were) I looked at my mom and said I’m getting all my bags. Mostly I just wanted to make sure I had my paperwork for Kenda, our tickets and our passports. I ran in pulling all our bags out onto the lawn and then there was not much we could do except sit and watch and hope that the firemen would be able to contain the fire which thankfully for my parents they did. And the folk living in those units – they were very fortunate they all got out safely but sadly their units were destroyed.

Signed and sealed

My dad returns from a marathon day of driving around the perimeter of Atlanta with the critical piece of paper the U.S. Interstate and International Certificate of Health Examination for Small Animals in hand. Signed and sealed. It was a beautiful thing. Kenda is coming with us but she has no idea what’s headed her way, a 17-hour flight trapped inside a crate. That’s the thing about dogs, they are faithful and love their families unconditionally. They trust us to do the right thing for them, even if it means forcing them to go inside basically a box with air holes. I had a great sense of responsibility for her – I’d called United Airlines three separate times to make sure all was squared away. I’d gotten some drugs for her to make sure she slept for most of the flight and wouldn’t be scared. There were only two hurdles left – for safety reasons the airlines will not fly the dogs when the temperature is over 85 degrees so I was praying for cool weather in Atlanta at the end of July. The second hurdle would be once we arrived in Japan – all paperwork needed to be in perfect order or they would not accept her into the country. As you may have gathered so far … nothing about this move went smoothly. So stay tuned – does Kenda make the flight? How fast can mom run in heels? Did the car make it to storage? Check in for the next blog entry as I try to wrap up the Cleary Moving Odyssey.

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