Saturday, December 27, 2008

Meeting the Neighbors, A Visit to Machida and NeverLand 2

All of Japan is gearing up for the New Year's Celebration. Everywhere you look is New Year's decorations. I saw lots of street vendors selling homemade New Years decor. Lots of Japanese people take vacation for New Years. Our Realty Agent is going to South Korea. He was very excited about his vacation.

We woke up this morning, did some chores, then headed off to Machida. I had a map from Fleet and Family Support Center. They keep maps for a good variety of destinations. They are in the foyer of the center, so you can go by there anytime and pick up a map. Most destinations have Train directions or Driving directions. It was about a 25-30 minute drive due to traffic. When we were getting closer to Machida, it turned into a more "downtown" environment. The buildings were taller and mostly businesses or apt. towers. We saw rental cars, hotels, dept. stores and car dealerships. The map was fairly good, it did get us there. There was a few landmarks that had changed. Our goal was to go to the FIVE floor 100 Yen store. It is called Daiso. However, it wasn't clearly marked. It took us quite some time to find it. In the meantime, we found lots of other stores that we did want to check out.

There was a really nice little coffee/international gourmet foods/snacks shop. We found several interesting items in there. I saw several stores I need to go back and check out. Once we located and went into the Daiso, we were like kids in a candy store. Wow! Did they have STUFF. All of the items are not 100 YEN anymore. Most are. I found a wonderful new igloo type fleece, cushy bed for Dolly. She will love it. There isn't any heat on in the middle of the night because we have kerosene heaters. We turn them off before we get in bed. We all have electric blankets, but not poor Dolly. She freezes even though she's wearing a sweater and has two fleece blankets on the bottom of her cage. This igloo bed can go in her cage and she can curl up in it. It even has a detached pillow in the bottom that I can wash easily.

There is a craft section, plastic section, household goods galore, wooden items section, toy section, cell phone accessory assortments, health and beauty items, clothing items, garden items. Think Dollar Tree on STERIODS. I have to go back. You'd have to spend 4 hours in there to look at everything.

After we left Machida with a whole big bag of stuff for under $30.00, we headed back to the house. Midori Tsugana, a volunteer for Fleet and Family, came to our house today. She helped me with a few questions I had about the trash separation here at the house. She also helped me with translating some signs in the neighborhood that I had no idea what they said. You know, it 's a good thing to know what the big red X means on signs. And one of them was directions to the hospital, so that was good to know.

Then, Midori took Brian and I to 3 neighbor's homes to introduce us. There are 6 houses all the same, owned by the man that lives next to us. They are like townhouses, but aren't connected. We went to the Owners house first. It is Mr. and Mrs. Onuki. They are about 60 years old, I think. They were very nice. They have a medium sized dog that was very cute. They enjoyed meeting us. They are very quiet people and said they don't know most of the people on our block. I hope that I get to talk to them again. I think I will take them some Lasagne when I get the energy to make it.

The next house we went to is the 6th house. It is Mr. and Mrs. Cantrell. Mr. Cantrell is retired military. His wife is Japanese. They were also very nice. They have 3 children and 6 grandchildren. His 2 sons are here in Japan and the daughter is in the states. I look forward to talking to them again, too!

The third house is across the alley and to the left 3 houses. I wanted to meet them because I knew that they had a dog. We met Mrs. Kato. Her and her husband live there and upstairs is their son and his wife and grandchildren. She was also extremely nice. She seemed very glad to meet us.

Here in Japan, they do the opposite of the states. Instead of your neighbors coming to welcome you to the neighborhood, You go to your new neighbors and introduce yourself and assure them that you will be a good neighbor. It is also customary to give them a bagged gift. I had brought Virginia Peanuts and Gourmet Hot Cocoa. I hope they liked it! Also, I gave the Owners a plastic container of my Christmas Cookies. Midori was very helpful and I also gave her a container of cookies. I was very thankful to have her help!!

We decided to pile in the car and Boyden came along with us to Neverland 2 to finish the evening. It is an arcade/entertainment kind of place. On the first floor they have a whole section of the crane/claw type games where you put in a 100 yen coin and try to grab a stuffed toy and bring it to the hole to win it. Although here in Japan, they put everything you can imagine in those machines. There was Ice Cream, pillows, stuffed animals, anime characters, hello kitty items, snacks of all kinds, warming slippers, etc.... Yeah, we didn't win anything. But, we didn't try to hard.

They also had the ice cream vending machines and we all had an ice cream. On the 2nd floor, they had all video games. But, again, in Japan it is taken to the extreme. There were video games for duel collectors cards that were interactive. There were dance-dance Revolution extreme games, and guitar hero and rock band. I just couldn't tell you all of them. We aren't this far advanced at our arcades in the states. Maybe that's a good thing?

Back down to the first floor, there is an over 18 section that has all the gambling type games. They had those massively addictive quarter eating ones where the quarters fall of the shelf as you feed them in. They had regular slot and card games. There was a huge one that I thought was really funny. It was bigger than a pool table with a green field. In the center it was a horse race in miniature. The little plastic horses where actually running around the track. Their little legs were moving and everything. It was hilarious. Yep, the screens were all in Japanese, so no betting the horses for us.

After we spent a sufficient amount of money on the car racing video games, we decided to call it a night. Brian had won a whole lot of tokens so I signed up for a member card and we have 642 points. You can turn the points in for prizes. They are only good for 2 months. The prizes actually weren't that great. So, I'm not sure why anyone would want to go there. It was okay for once, I'm sure we'll go back some rainy day when the boys are bored and want to play video games.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Comes To Japan

We moved into our new home and spent the first night there on December 17th. It has been an absolutely crazy, exciting, busy, confusing, delightful 9 days. We invited our good friends Laura and Boyden (and Gabe) and our realty agent, Nago-san, to Christmas Dinner. I had to get the house altogether and prepare for the dinner. I completed everything to my satisfaction in plenty of time. The dinner was delicious and a success. We had a lovely time with our guests and I was very happily exhausted by the end of the day. Thanks to our trusty Magic Jack (thanks DAD!) we were able to call lots of family members and friends on their Christmas morning.

The Japanese people love our Christmas. They do not celebrate Christmas like Americans. It isn't one of their holidays. However, they like the IDEA of the decorations and Santa and the food. There are plenty of places that display Christmas Lights. On our block, I think there are about 3 houses that had Christmas lights. On the main street, most of the retail or service businesses had lights. There are bakeries everywhere here. All the bakeries and grocery stores sell Christmas cakes and/or yule log type cakes. We were driving Christmas Eve and passed a bakery (Pattiserie is what they are called here) that had a table set up outside for the Christmas Cakes. Bryan and I walked down from the house (about 3 blocks) and they were absolutely delighted that we came to buy a cake from them. They were tickled to use their english skills on us and to wish us Merry Christmas. I purchased a yellow cake roll that had a cream filling for 1575 YEN (approx. $16.00). It had a plastic Santa pick and a Merry Christmas sign made out of chocolate. The Japanese do not have very sweet icing in their pastries and cakes, it is more mild like whip cream. It was very good.

Noga-san brought us a wonderful box of gourmet pastries when he came to dinner. They were beautiful and delicious. I made about 5 different kinds of Christmas Cookies and Laura brought 4 different types of bread cakes. I also had made cupcakes and purchased chocolate ice cream. HA! No lack of food around here!

We finally had internet connection installed on the 23rd. We were all having internet withdrawals by then! JCom had wonderful sales agents and the 2 fellows that came to install were very knowledgeable and polite. They enjoyed a couple of my Christmas Cookies. We have 4 computers (3 wireless) and unlimited internet for about $65.00 per month.

The house....Well, I took some pictures, then my camera broke. I promise I will take some more. The block we live on has some very nice houses. We live in the Minami-Rinkan train station area. I have been told that Minami-Rinkan has traditionally been an upscale area with the residences being for business owners. The houses on our block are large and mostly two stories, so it does seem to be somewhat accurate. Their is 6 homes like mine altogether here. They are owned by Onuki-san who lives beside us with his wife. I haven't met them yet. I have an appt. with a translator tomorrow to introduce us to the neighbors. I'll do a post on that.

Our house is very similar to an american townhouse. It is very basic in construction. It has white siding, and lots of windows. The front door is brown. Their is a wall/fence that goes around the property. I like the little front gate. It isn't completely enclosed, so I couldn't let the dog loose. It's more to keep people off your property I think. I wrapped pine garland around the fence and put a nice wreath on the front door and it looks Christmas-y. We also have a bay window in the living room and I put the tree in that window, and put other Christmas things on the shelf. The block neighbors have enjoyed looking in my window!

The front door opens into a square where you take your shoes off and there is a tall cabinet (looks like a wardrobe) that is a shoe cabinet. It is in our lease, NO SHOES TO BE WORN INSIDE THE HOUSE. We all wear slippers. After you change into your slippers, you step up into the livingroom. We have wood floors in all the rooms which is very nice, except you feel like you have to sweep EVERY DAY!! There seems to be a lot of DUST. The walls are all white/cream wallpaper, the rubbery kind. Then they also have brown molding. We have a good sized living room, and kitchen. Then there is a hallway, with the washer and dryer at one end. Off of the hallway is a bathroom and a small storage room (very thankful for the storage!).

The bathroom is interesting. It is modern Japanese style. Meaning that the WHOLE room is tiled except the ceiling. You can actually spray down the whole bathroom to clean it. I guess that's good with boys. It is a VERY COLD room. However, there is a heater in the ceiling above the tub/shower and you can turn it on, wait 15 mins. then take a shower. We also have heated toilet seats in both bathrooms, which is a luxury that I was soooo happy about. The tile is green, yep, Florida, 1960's green. YUCK!! The tub and shower are pretty much the same basic except they don't do regular shower heads here. They are like the handheld plastic ones that you can hook up at two different heights. The tub is deep and I like that for a bath.

Upstairs has a central hallway with the 3 bedrooms off of it and a 1/2 bath that is very similar to a bathroom in the states. The hotwater works very different here. They don't have hot water heaters. Down stairs, for showers or for hot sink water, you push a button that flash heats the water in pipes that are in the wall. The controls for this is very funny. When you turn it on and set it, it talks. It's in Japanese so I don't know what it says. It's very cheery though! Upstairs for hot water, it is automatic. The sink is in a built in cabinet that has a heater built in for the water. You turn a dial to select cold to hot, then you turn another dial to actually start the water coming out.

The bedrooms are all 12 x 12 which is a nice size with good sized closets. The house is just the right size for us, and because it is basically what they call "western style" we feel very comfortable here. It feels like home, and I am very happy with it.

Brian and I found a tall wicker shelf with the basket pullout drawers at the secondhand store two block down. It is very sturdy and in excellent condition. We only paid $20.00 for it. I will put this in the hallway upstairs for some extra storage. The shop owners around here are extremely polite!!

My neighbors are awesome. 4 of the 6 houses are Americans (Navy). But around the block and around, I have only seen one other American. So, we are an oddity and somewhat celebrities. Everyone loves to talk to me especially when I am walking Dolly. She's been wearing her nice SpongeBob sweater and she looks so adorable.

I have at least 2-4 people talk to me everyday walking around the block. Usually it is just them saying something about the dog or hello to me. A couple of times, they have broken out in Japanese sentences, and I just smile and nod and finally say "sumimasen" which is excuse me. I need to learn the sentence for "I don't speak Japanese" OR I need to learn more Japanese. LOL!!

I truly like it here very much. In fact, for now, I love it. I LOVE being off the base. I like learning something new everyday. I like being nice to these delightful people. I enjoy being different. I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.....

Saturday, December 13, 2008

So, We're moving into a Japanese Home

The lease is signed, our bags are packed, our household goods shipment has arrived. Monday is the big day!

Today we picked up the keys and went by the house and filled out the damages list. The house is small, like an American Townhouse. But it is sufficient and we like the location.

My wonderful husband sprayed for spiders around the house in and out. Yeah, believe me when I tell you that you don't wanna know about the Japanese Spiders. They are enough to give you nightmares for many years to come.

I bought curtains today for the livingroom, kitchen, and the boys' rooms. I still have to buy for our room, and their are two windows on the staircase. They were EXPENSIVE. Tomorrow we will go over and hang the curtains.

I am ready to move and excited to have a home before Christmas. It is a little stressful because I don't know everything about Japanese utilities and trash. There are crazy rules to the trash, and you have to keep 4 separate trash cans. You put trash out every single day, but different types. I forgot to ask the landlord how to do it. OOOPS.

I do feel comfortable now about driving back and forth. If you can drive by landmarks instead of street names, you'd do fine here. Our neighbors seem very interested about us moving in. I am looking forward to meeting them.

We will be without internet connection for about 1 week. JComm will connect us up. So, I'll write again after we are snug in our new home.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Is Coming To Atsugi

So, are you ready for Christmas. It is coming quickly!

Here at the NAF Atsugi base they are getting ready.

The big tree is full of lights.

The chapel was decorated today.

The nativity scene is ready.

The Navy Lodge had their First Annual Christmas Tree Decorating Party.

My gifts are bought and wrapped.

All we need is a home..........

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sunshine, Sweet Sunshine

So, are you wondering what our weather is like here in Japan? It is very mild. We haven't had a day less than 52 since we arrived at the end of October. At night, the lowest it has gotten is 39 degrees just once.

Today, it was 66 degrees and sunny!! It didn't last long, but it was wonderful while it lasted!!

It's so nice to feel that warm sun on your face! The rest of the week will be around 59 degrees.

The boys have purchased their car (Honda Ascot) and have almost gotten the paperwork done on it. Today we had Mongolian Barbeque for dinner. It was yummy. We are all getting ready to move on Monday! I packed a little today. I'm so excited about finally having a home again!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Akihabara - Tokyo Electronics District

Brian went through his orientation this week. Since he was out to sea when Michael and I went to the classes, he had to wait until now. He had his field trip this past Thursday and I went with him. I was expecting tall, stuffy buildings full of electronics. It was closer to a New York City feel on the crowded streets with vendors everywhere, but inside the buildings. A lot of the buildings were a mish-mash of this and that. We did go into a few buildings that were more like a dept. store. We were disappointed that it wasn't a nicer area. We may have walked out the wrong entrance of the train station, we're not sure. I did find a couple of places that sold affordable souvenirs and was able to pick up a few things.

We ate at a place called "Beckers" and it was a good, americanized version of a hamburger restaurant with regular fries. I had a croissant with lettuce, chicken slices, cheese and some green stuff. It was good and we were ready to browse.

There were too many stores that had ADULT merchandise in them. Let's just say that Japan takes Anime (cartoons) to the EXTREME. Again, I was disappointed. I will have to find a Japanese Techie and ask them about Akihabara and hopefully we will be able to return and see the robots and the race cars that you see on tv.

Kamakura Orientation Field Trip Part TWO

After we left the Italian Restaurant in Kamakura, we hopped back on the train. We went to the Hase stop. The first thing we did was to get off the train walking in the wrong direction!! A very nice Japanese woman helped us to get going in the correct direction. She walked with us for about 10 minutes to show us the right way. She was extremely kind! Once we were walking in the correct direction, it didn't take us long to arrive at The Great Buddha. The following excerpt is taken straight from our entrance ticket. "The seated Buddha, Amida Nyorai known by the familiar name of the Kamakura Daibutsu is the principle deity of Kotoku-in temple. It is a national treasure. Construction of the Daibutsu began in 1252 and continued for approximately 10 years. The costs of construction of the Daibutsu were met by the priest Joko, who successfully persuaded members of the community to make the necessary donations. Among the records of the temple, the name of Hisatomo Tanji appears as a craftsman responsible for the casting of the Daibutsu, and a man known as Gorouemon Ohno appears in the temple lore, but the designer of the original model and many other details surrounding the construction remain unknown to this day. It is thought that the hall which housed the Daibutsu was destroyed twice by strong winds in 1334 and in 1369. Records are not clear for the intervening period, but it was not re-built again after the fifteenth century." The statue weighs 93 tons, is 13.55m high. It is massive and impressive and when standing in front of the Buddha, we had a feeling of awe. Mostly because of how old the statue is, but partly because of the reverence in the people around us. It is Old and beautiful and peaceful. The sky was so blue that day. We did enjoy it and I had a moment of amazement that no one else in our families will probably ever see this Great Buddha.
We left the Great Buddha and walked down the street a little ways to Hase-Dera Temple. This is one of the most attractive Temple's in Japan. It was beautiful to see and I can only imagine how much more beautiful it will be in the spring cherry-blossom flowering season. Information from our pamphlet follows. "According to legend, in 721 AD the pious monk Tokudo Shonin discovered a large camphor tree in the mountain forests near the village of Hase in the Nara region. He realized the trunk of the tree was so large that it provided enough material for carving two statues of the eleven-headed Kannon. The statue he commissioned to be carved from the lower part of the trunk was enshrined in Hasedera Temple near Nara; the statue from the upper half was thrown into the sea near present day Osaka with a prayer that it would reappear to save the people. Fifteen years later in 736 on the night of June 18th it washed ashore at Nagai Beach, not far from Kamakura, sending out rays of light as it did. The statue was then brought to Kamakura and a temple was constructed to honor it. Since time immemorial, hasedera temple has been known as the 4th station among the 33 holy places in the Kanto area." The first area you come to is a peaceful garden with water features. It has 3 different areas and is very calming. Then you climb some stone stairs and come to an area with thousands of little "Jizo" stone statues standing in long rows, some wearing bibs or caps and festooned with charms. They are there to comfort the souls of unborn children. I was told by a Japanese person that the flowers left there now are more to bless the miscarried or aborted babies. It is a quiet and somber place. You can purchase the flowers and favors there at the shrine. When you walk up the stone stairs again, you come to the level that the Temple is located. "Inside of the main hall, called "Kannon-do Hall" is housed the magnificent statue of Hase Kannon. It is 30.1 ft. tall and has 11 heads in addition to it's main one. Each face has a different expression, signifying that the deity listens to the wishes of all types of people. Gold leaf was applied to the statue in 1342. Kannon is a future Buddha, destined for enlightenment, who has vowed to save all sentient beings--and represents compassion, mercy, and love."--From the pamphlet. The temple is beautiful. When you go inside, it is very calm and quiet. There are people that arrive every day to pray there. For a Christian walking into the temple, I respect the reverence, and my eyes are those of seeing a piece of history, and a part of Japan. The statue is amazing. We were not allowed to bring in a camera. It is something that I will always remember, seeing the golden statue. It was beautiful and glowing. I did snap a picture with my zoom all the way out from the outside. You can see the orange glow. The Japanese are very much into nature being apart of their lives. They always incorporate gardens and greenery with there shrines and temples. This temple was no different. However, it had a little more than usual. There was a platform or deck that you could walk over to from the temple. Remember that we had walked up stone steps twice. The platform overlooked the town below and out over the ocean. It was beautiful and quaint. Our short visit to Kamakura has been my favorite place of all so far and I look forward to returning at least once more.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Kamakura Japan Our Orientation Field Trip

Michael and I had to take orientation classes the week of Nov. 17-21st. This was actually a good week for us to take the classes because my husband was out to sea and he would return the night of the 21st. The classes kept me busy and made the waiting game a little easier. The first day is called AOB, area orientation brief. It should be called Base Orientation. We sat through an endless line of different dept.'s coming in and telling us what they had to offer and what we couldn't do on base. I'm being a little sarcastic there. Some of the info was informative, but none of it was on paper and there was no way I was remembering all of that info. I think we had about 30 different speakers. We were all glad when the class was OVER.

The next 4 days of the class are ICR, Inter-cultural Relations. We had two local Japanese instructors, Naoko (pronounced NOWCO) and Hugi (prounounced HUE-JEE. Naoko is a woman and Hugi is a man. They took turns teaching us. We learned the meaning of CULTURE through an amusing fictional exercise. People don't realize that culture is all around you. From your weather, to how your parents raised you, to what kind of food is available to you, to how crowded your city is OR NOT. It was a very good lesson and a valuable one. Then they took us through very basic language skills, japanese history, geography, do's and dont's of ettiquite, using the bus and train systems, eating in a japanese evironment and speaking with japanese people. I'm sure there was more to the class than just these items. We all learned a lot. We also had a presentation from a "Gaijin" (foreigner, actually an American) that has lived in Japan for over 12 years. On Thursday we went on our personal choice field trip. Michael and I chose to go to Kamakura and we took a new friend, Henrietta with us. We met Henrietta on our first Tokyo sightseeing trip. She is a great sightseer and we enjoy having her with us. Bryan also missed the bus that morning, so he went along too. Lucky him.
The trains are an affordable and efficient way to get around Japan. When you go to Kamakura you take a train that is an older train. It is called the Enoden Line. It is alot like a trolley type of train. It was not very crowded and was very comfortable. Check out the Coca-Cola sign on the side!! Japanese are very funny with English. The special pass you buy for the Enoden line allows you to get off and back on the train as much as you need to on this route. It is called the "Kamakura Free Pass". Ha! It isn't free. It cost about 1200 YEN per person. That's about 12.00 in US$. This is a round trip ticket and took us all the way there and all the way back with many stops in between. Very nice. There's a lot closer places you can go that cost more than that and you can't get off and on in between. Due to time constraints, we weren't able to stop at all the places that you can stop. We boarded the train and decided to go all the way to the end of the line at the Kamakura stop. We looked out the windows and saw more of the same looking city. The train stations did look a little smaller. Then all of a sudden the city stopped on one side and we saw OCEAN. Beautiful water and sky and surfers in the water. It was beautiful. Henrietta has been on the West Coast of the US and she said it looked alot like the Pacific Coast. But because it is a large Bay, there was mountains way on the other side of the water. It was just an amazing surprise and made us all very happy we came already. When we got to Kamakura I wanted to try and find an Italian Restaurant that was listed in the Frommer's Travel Guide. It was listed as Milano a Riccione. We did find it!! But the name is A Riccione Milano. After we asked about the 10th person, they said, "Riccione" and showed us which way to go. It was an AUTHENTIC Italian restaurant in the middle of Japan. Amazing!! They had a brick oven and since it was lunchtime, we decided to try the pizza lunch special. It was a thin crust pizza with FRESH tomato's and FRESH mozarella. Also, I requested the "set" with the appetizer and received a plate with a tiny portion of a potato salad, a raw slice of fish, and Italian ham, but tasted a lot like bologna. Yes, I tried a tiny piece of the raw fish and NO, I didn't care for it. It was fishy. Oh well, at least I tried. It was very nice that they spoke enough English to explain the menu to us and to make a few cute jokes. The waiter was very nice. Like all restaurants in Japan (except on base) you do not tip. They see it as an insult. They are paid very well, not at all under the same pay as the wait staff in the United States.
WORK IN PROGRESS ***Will Finish this blog later..............Sleepy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Houses and Cars, OH MY!

Okay, I am a little behind on this blog. I promise to get caught up soon. Brian is wasting away in orientation this week. I thought I would have a calm, relaxing week. WRONG!! I found out yesterday that our house will be ready to move in on Monday, Dec. 8th. Tomorrow I go to finish the paperwork on the lease and our personal property items. Our wonderful landlord did have a gas line run for us so we can have an American Oven!! I never realized I would be putting so much importance on an oven. CAPS needed!! AMERICAN OVEN!! We also scored an extra parking spot that the Navy is paying for!! WOO-HOO!! I will add much more later about the house as we move in and get settled.

I have had a continuing car saga going on that has been fairly stressful. We purchased a Nissan Cube, 2001 model last Wednesday. There is a TON of paperwork that has to be done when you buy a car in Japan. You have to do the paperwork for the government just like in the states. Their DMV is called a LTO. That stands for Local Tax Office. We opted to purchase our car from the monopoly LOT down the street called Wellcham. The reason I call it a monopoly lot is because he makes it easier to buy a car from him than any other dealer around. Therefore, most of the families buy their cars from him. The difference is getting the car in one day as opposed to one week and a lot of hassle from another lot. He takes some advantage of his captive audience due to this. He also is very arrogant. It will be the ONLY car we buy from him. You can purchase cars from other military who are leaving and have it transferred to you. This isn't too difficult. There just wasn't any good choices for us at this time. We are trying to do this to find Michael a car.

After you buy the car, and get it inspected on base, and talk to the Japanese LTO person on base who doesn't make any sense, and go back and forth 4 times between the dealer and the base, AND your active duty spouse gets his license AND you get your permanent address, you are finished with the paperwork. So we should be done with all of the car stuff by the end of December. My aggravation in all of this is that NO ONE has this information printed so that you can understand the procedures. I tend to put in a complaint about that today!! We actually had to go FOUR different places to get all the information we needed to just start the process and buy a car. Ridiculous! I think I have a handle on it now and it is a relief!! I will take a pic of the car and upload it later!!

SHERRY DRIVING IN JAPAN ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD, ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE CAR IS VERY AMUSING. I STILL HAVEN'T FIGURED OUT WHICH ONE IS MY WINDSHIELD WIPERS AND WHICH IS MY TURN SIGNAL!!! BRIAN CONSTANTLY TRIES TO GET IN THE DRIVERS SIDE WITHOUT HIS LICENSE!! Oh, and I know what it is like to get a ticket from a Japanese Policeman. I found this out on our way to Zama last Friday. I still am confused and am not sure what I did wrong to get the ticket. I have asked several people and they don't know either!! It's something about the railroad tracks, blowing my horn, and the number 6. The best guess is that because the caution light started as I was crossing the tracks, I should have stopped, blown my horn, and waited 6 seconds to go. All I know is that if that ever happens again, I'm just going to STOP! Anyway, the ticket was for 120,000 YEN and no points to my license. The cop said, "You pay before 6th day at bank or post office. You pay, DO NOT go to JUDGE! " Oh, and he said he was sorry about 100 times. I PAY ALREADY AT POST OFFICE YESTERDAY!! I have no need to go see a judge!!! The Yen to Dollar rate is 93 Yen to 1.00. So it was about $130 for the ticket. Yikes. Brian and Michael were both with me and they were just as confused as me. ??? Anyway, I chalk it up to being new and they were so nice, it's just water under the bridge. At least now I know not to be scared of them.

We went to another Bazaar at Zama and I wasn't impressed with the tables this time. They had beautiful big furniture for very reasonable prices but the smaller things were not as nice. Zama does have a very nice Asia Tree store that has a lot of nicer authentic items to purchase. She was having a 20% off sale and I purchased a beautiful little box for myself that has a turtle latch to match my curio cabinet with the turtle handles. I promise I will take pictures of these when we get moved in to the house.

The boys and I explored a store close to the base called VINA HOME. It is like a home Depot and a Bed, Bath and Beyond in one store. Very interesting. I priced some curtains and things, but they are all very expensive off base. Some things that we may need like clothesline and dog items we can get for reasonable prices there. It is funny to find the items that we normally buy in Japanese packaging. It takes awhile, but you can find them.

Brian, Bryan and I went to see Laura and Boyden's off base home on Sunday. It was beautiful and VERY Japanese. I am so jealous!! They have the shojii screens on all the windows and each room has the sliding doors. It does have a closed in feel as the doorways are short and some of the ceilings are low. But the charm of the place definitly wins you over. She has more storage than we had in our house in Virginia and that is very unusual for a Japanese home. They are lucky enough to be 1/2 a block from the train station and 1/2 a block from Oak City Mall. We walked over to the mall and it was really neat!! They have two building to choose from that each have their own food court!! There was a really nice little store that sold Hello Kitty items. I will definitly have to do some more exploring there!! Luckily, we are only 1 train stop away from this area. I think that the boys will really enjoy going over there to explore.

We went to the O Club for Thanksgiving to have dinner with Laura, Boyden and their son, Gabe. It was yummy and they had all the trimmings!! We ate too much and then went bowling and laughed a lot. It still wasn't like being at home. Mom, I missed your Turkey and Pumpkin Pie! Well, that's all for now. I just have one post left to catch up about our trip to Kamakura. Thursday is when Brian's orientation class goes on a trip, and I will post about that too!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tokyo Sightseeing Tour - Our First MWR Tour

The boys and I went on our very first tour in Japan. MWR (Morale, Welfare, & Recreation) here on the base gives an awesome list of tours every month. There is at least two tours every weekend if not more. They make the tours very affordable and comfortable. We all boarded the bus at 7:30 a.m. This is a picture out the bus window of the Ginza area of Tokyo. Ginza is known for its upscale shopping. You can find Cartier, Chanel, etc. here. Ginza is also known for its glitter at night. Brian and I are taking an adults only, nightlife tour this Saturday. He will be back and I will be HAPPY!! We didn't stop for any shopping at Ginza this trip. Our first stop was at Tokyo Tower, yes that is that big orange and white steel tower in this picture. The first white part from the ground is the first observatory. We went there. We didn't have time to go to the second observatory. Since it's opening in 1958, the Tokyo Tower has been the world's tallest self-supporting steel tower at 333m. The Eiffel Tower in Paris is 320m high. The Tower weighs about 4,000 tons. It is much lighter than the Eiffel Tower which weighs 7,000 tons; due to advances in steel mfg. and const. technology. Paint used for the Tower was 28,000 liters; equal to 140 drums. It is painted white and orange to adhere to aviation safety standards. There are 14 broadcasting signals for nine TV stations and five FM radio stations. 176 floodlights installed in various parts light up the Tower. It is illuminated with an orange light in winter and white incandescent light in summer. The main observatory is at 150m and you can enjoy a 360 degree view of the whole Kanto Region surrounding Tokyo. The special observatory at 250m is on the top floor of the tower. You can see as far as Mt. Fuji. What we saw was endless city as far as our eyes could see in all directions. Then the bus headed over to the Imperial Palace. You can't go inside the gates of the Palace, but you can tour the outside and the East Garden. We were able to take some beautiful pictures. The Palace grounds are entirely surrounded by a Moat. It was very peaceful and almost surreal in the middle of Tokyo. The sitting Emperor is the 125th Emperor of Japan. He and his family live in the Imperial Palace. Like England they are there for ceremonial purposes. After World War II the Emperor lost all ruling capabilities. The Emperor's first-born son will be the 126th Emperor. THEN that son does not have a son. He has a daughter. The second son has a son. So, Japan has not decided for the 127th Emperor if it will be a girl or they will appoint the 2nd son's son. Interesting. I have seen a picture and they are all beautiful people. It was very relaxing walking around the grounds and we enjoyed it immensely. The weather was perfect. It was light sweater weather with no wind. Oh, the Emperor can only be seen by the public twice per year. Once on his birthday and once for New Year's he comes out to wave to the crowds. Once we left the Imperial Palace we went to the Sensoji Temple which is the oldest Temple in the Tokyo area. It was a very bustling area with a full shopping street on the way down the road to the temple. They call this the Nakamise Shopping Street. We had one military fellow in our orientation class that remarked wherever he had been around the world, "there's lots of shopping around the temples". I was able to snap a picture of two girls and their Father and Mother. The girls were on a ceremonial trip to the shrine. They go to get a special blessing for ages 3 and 7. For boys, they go at age 5. I was told that this comes from when there was a great Flu outbreak and many, many children died. The girls are beautifully made up for the occasion. I will explain more about shrines in a different post.

When we left the shrine we headed over to board the River Cruise. We boarded the boat pictured. It had a see-through roof so that you could look up and see all the Tokyo tall buildings. It was a very pleasant, but crowded boat tour. There are lots and lots of bridges across the river and they are all very different, so they spoke about the bridges. The Cruise took us to Pallet Town which is a touristy destination with an amusement park, a fabulous Mall with very affluent shopping and a Toyota car showcase for the men. The Mall was called Venus Fort and it was fabulous!! I was able to purchase some bling for my cell phone. Everyone here has things dangling from cell phones so that you can tell who's it who's. I have a strap that hangs from mine with Hello Kitty face, SHERRY in Rhinestones, and a heart on the end. It was $25.00, but I LOVE IT!! It was very funny to explain the word "BLING" to the guy who sold it to me. He liked the word!! If you have ever been to the hotel "PARIS" in Las Vegas, that is what the inside of the mall looked like. The picture is of the water fountain in the upstairs center of the mall.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Driver's Class & A Little Italian Feel Good

Michael and I woke up at 6:00 a.m. this morning, trotted off to the galley (Far East Cafe) and enjoyed some breakfast as we woke up. I am still reserving my opinion on the Far East Cafe. I'll let you know about it, when I have more to say. Right now I'll just let you know that it is our cafeteria on base that is cheap and decent food.

Then we strolled over to the Safety Building which is a good little walk from the Lodge. I was pleased to see that it was a nice little building and we had a large room in which to glean knowledge to be good drivers in Japan. The instruction was light, cheerful and informative. It bordered on boring only a minimal amount. We did have to watch a SEVERE account of very remorseful young sailors who are serving long sentences at Yokosuka Prison (a Japanese Prison) for their mindless crimes. Most of the American Military that are there (and there are quite a few) were caused by alcohol. The movies were meant to scare us and catch our attention, and that was achieved. If you get stopped for DWI (.03 breath/alcohol) you go to prison for FIVE YEARS OF HARD LABOR and a HUGE fine. They are very, very serious here about drinking and driving. They give many, many breathalyzer tests here. I will be tested. I will NOT be drinking and driving or taking Nyquil and driving!!

I believe that it made a scar on Michael's mind as well. Some of these are sailor's who have never gotten in trouble and in 1 night, changed their lives forever. Very sad. Oh, and if you loan your car to someone, and they get caught, you also have to do the time, because you enabled that person. We won't be letting anyone drive our car.

Anyway, driving class was educational. We learned all about Japanese signs and parking penalties and driving on the left side of the road. The signs here are funny. You should see the raccoon crossing sign. HEE HEE. At the end of the class, we took a 50 question test, which you have to score an 80 or better to get your license. That means you can miss up to 10 questions. This is good, because they have a couple of tricky questions on there. I was just relieved that there wasn't a behind the wheel driving test. I was soo worried about that! We will find out tomorrow if we passed our test.

After class, I had 4 different places to run around to. I finished that and it was 3:00. I was pooped! There was no way I was cooking dinner. So we all decided to head over to Club Trilogy. Club Trilogy is a building that has different eating/entertainment establishments in it. It is the "Enlisted" club on base. If you didn't know, on any base they have things for "Enlisted", "Chief's" and "Officer's". If anyone can go to an event there they say it is for "All Hands". Club Trilogy has Smokey's Barbeque. From what I can tell you can get a barbeque sandwich that is highly recommended, hamburgers, chicken fingers, french fries, etc. there. It also has a little arcade room, an event room with a stage, and a bar.

There is also a restaurant called Blue Grill Cafe? I think that's the name. Anyway they have special nights for buffets. Tues. is Mexican, Wed. is Italian, and I don't know the rest. They also have a nice menu with Tex Mex offerings and other "Americanized" food. Which now that we have been here for 13 days, was very nice to find. We chose the Italian Buffet. They had a cook making your pasta to order. We all had a nice meal and dessert. Except Michael, he's trying to watch his youthful figure. It was just the thing I needed today.

I came back to the hotel stuffed, happy and ready for a hot bath. The boys have gone (big surprise) bowling again and I am going to watch a little t.v. and then hit the sack. Bryan starts school tomorrow and Michael and I will be on a mission to find a car. I'll let you know how that goes......

Monday, November 10, 2008

Japanese Toilets and The Star Spangled Banner

If I told you that I am not leading an interesting life lately, you'd have to make me tell you the truth. It's amazing to me the things that we stumble on daily here in Japan that make you go "hmmmm".

Take Japanese toilets for instance. Now we had already had a first experience with the super deluxe toilets at the airport, but I was tired then. Today, Bryan and I grabbed breakfast quickly at McDonalds. We had to go into the bathroom to brush our teeth, because we had stopped in on our way to the Clinic for our dental appointments. McDonalds is always a good choice before a dental appt. if you think like a 13 year old. Or if your 38 and thinking that you are getting a crown and you won't be able to eat later.

So, here I am walking into the McDonalds Bathroom and much to my wonder and surprise are two sparkling super deluxe Japanese toilets. Of course I only needed to use one of them. I walked in and put my fanny down and I just can't tell you the joy that you feel from the warmed seat. If you don't like anyone hearing you tinkle (or worse) you can push the music button or the "flushing sound" button. HEE HEE. If you want to be in for an extra treat (if your hubby has been gone out to sea for a while, for instance) you can push the "spray" button. Let's just say that you don't usually squirt a spray of water THERE. HA HA HA There's also a "bidet" button and a "STOP" button and a "Heavy Deodorant" button or something like that. I don't think I wanna push that one.... So much amusement out of a trip to the bathroom is usually not to be had in the states, unless it is a truck stop bathroom, which can be pretty amusing at times.

Then there is the horn blowing and anthem playing on base. In the morning at 7:55 a.m. they play something on a horn at the flag raising. I'm not sure what that is called. Then at Sundown they play taps, then the Star Spangled Banner, and then the Japanese anthem. I might have this all backwards, but it is amusing, at least until you get used to it. The nice thing is that you don't have to worry about setting your clock, you can just tell them, I'll be over at half past the bugle playing. LOL!!

For anyone wondering, my DH "deployed husband" is doing very well out there. He is happily getting used to life on a ship again. Except for the food, he became very irritable today when I told him (via email) that we were having spaghetti for dinner. However, he became joyous again when he sent me an email with the subject line: "Sorry for Your Loss" and the email talked about the Steelers losing to the colts.

Bryan is officially signed up for school. He can start on Wed. but he has chosen to start on Thursday. Lucky for him, that I am a nice Mom (and feel guilty for uprooting him from all he knew) and have let him have his way since it is only one day. He even purchased his gym uniform today from the Army Base PX. PX/NEX what a bunch of jargon!!

While we were on Camp Zama, I was able to take Dolly her new things that I bought her. She is safely ensconced in a new completely indoor kennel with her PINK microfiber bed, sporting her new sweater, and nibbling on her new teddy bear. Spoiled dog. I MISS HER SO MUCH IT IS INSANE!!! But I do feel like a much better Mom today after seeing her warm and cozy. Mr. Jenks is also very happy with his new furry mouse toy. He was swiping at it as we left.

GOOD NEWS: I was able to make a bee-line to housing this morning and talk to Ms. Rinko and ask her a couple questions about the Japanese house. After 3 questions, we both decided that this was the house for us and she pulled the listing and tucked it safely away so no other lookers could see it. Yippee! That means we have a house Ya'all! My gracious landlord is looking into adding a gas line so that we can have an American Oven!!! Wow! I wasn't expecting that, but he has my total respect now. He's pretty certain we can get the queen size box springs up the steps. We may have to hoist them straight up and down, but they can probably go. And #3 issue solved, the school bus stops about 4 blocks down from the house in front of a book store.

SCARY NEWS: Sherry has to learn to drive in Japan pretty darn fast. Michael and I go for our driver's class on Wed. Everybody keep your fingers crossed that I pass it the first time!! We are going to start studying the signs this weekend. Michael has to only drive on base the first 30 days so it will be me driving everybody around. That is pretty scary!! Our house will be ready on the 26th of November. The pets can come home that day!! Yippee!! I love it when a plan comes together.

Michael has made friends with Laura's husband and they went bowling together today. I'm so glad he has someone to talk to. I think he was really getting bored. As soon as he and I go through AOB/ICR class next week, he can start thinking about getting a job.

Well, I stayed awake until 10:00 p.m.! That was my goal for tonight! Tomorrow, it's off to look for a deal on a car. Woo-hoo! NOT! But it should be a very relaxing, at my pace, Veterans Day. From me to all of our Veterans, Thank You for your service and sacrifice to our country. We are proud of you!

Friday, November 7, 2008

My first look at Japanese House for Lease

Today was an interesting day. I thought it was going to be uneventful. It ended up being quite the opposite. I woke up and took my now usual trip over to the housing list to get the newly updated list hot off the copier. Guess what? No new listings again today. I decided to wait and talk to my gracious housing counselor, Ms. Rinko. I'm glad I did!

Ms. Rinko very quickly assessed my situation and made some calls. She assured me that there would be more houses on the list next week. She called one realtor and found out that he might have a house I could look at if the currently scheduled appt. wasn't interested. She said she would let me know on Monday. I walked back to the hotel and grabbed Bryan and we went to the bank, the post office (Yeah! we received our first pieces of mail from Grandma Gay and Jerry Davis.), and to the commissary. When we returned the phone rang and Ms. Rinko said that the person who was supposed to look at the house cancelled and could I please meet the realtor at 3 p.m. at the main gate. I said, "YES, I'll be there!"

I put my groceries away and made me a sandwich for lunch, and the phone rang again! It was my lovely new friend Tina inviting me to ride along to Zama to see my pets!! We mosied on over there and I had a few minutes to see my Dolly and Mr. Jenks, who are REALLY getting tired of that kennel. Can't say I blame them.

Tina brought me back in time to grab my paperwork and dropped me off at the front gate with Bryan. Mr. Nago arrived promptly and took us to see the house! I was very excited. There is someone still living there that is retiring military. I believe it was a bachelor as it had guy stuff everywhere. But the house was very nice. It was large enough for all of us and had room for 2 cars. I was very impressed. There was also a 7-11 on the same block and a grocery store on the next block.

The only downside is that it is about 12-15 mins. driving from the base. In morning/afternoon traffic it is probably 22-25 mins. away. So, I'm not sure what to decide. I have to ask 3 or 4 questions. 1. Does the school bus route come close? 2. Can we get an American Oven? 3. Will my Queen Size box springs fit up the stairs? 4. Does it fit into our budget?

I meant to take a camera and forgot!! By American Standards it is small like a townhouse. However, it isn't too small. There's plenty of room for us to be comfortable there. I was especially glad to see that it had a patio off the kitchen long enough to have a couple chairs and a grill. Bryan could have a bicycle that would fit there too!

Well, after all of that excitement we arrived back at the lodge around 4 p.m. The housing office was closed by then, so I couldn't ask them questions today. It will have to wait until Monday.

Another surprise! My friend Laura, the teacher, her husband and son stopped to see us. They are a wonderful little family and I was grateful to meet them in person finally! The boys went bowling and they were there too. Michael was able to have someone to talk to for awhile.

Me, I am tired this evening and missing my wonderful husband. He's my support and I love him and can't wait for him to come home. Since I was feeling a little blue, I made some macaroni and cheese and hot dogs for dinner and watched some t.v. Now It's time for some ZZZZZ's.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

6 Days a Week

It is our 6th full day in Atsugi. It has been a crazy thing. Our bodies are still not quite adjusted to the time change. It gets dark here a little earlier than in VA. It makes you feel like you need to go to sleep by 9 p.m. every night. We've been waking up at 6 or 6:30 every morning. I like to sleep until at least 8 a.m. I try to stay up later and I just can't! Of course, it doesn't help being in a hotel room with not much to do.

My husband is gone. Yes, I miss him already. I did good and did not cry today. However, the boys are pushing my buttons and I wish that he was here to make them stop! Picking on each other....

Bryan had his bowling league meeting this afernoon. There are about 15 kids altogether. There are 2 other girls the same age as Bryan. The rest are younger. They actually start bowling next week. Bryan received his new bowling shoes today and they fit him very well. His ball came in also. He won't get that until next week because the bowling manager is in a tournament in Tokyo this week.

A fellow command spouse very graciously took Bryan and I to Zama today. I was able to see Dolly and Mr. Jenks. They are doing very well and as usual were very happy to see us. AND I was so sad to say good-bye to them again. I feel like such a terrible MOM!!

I also was able to stop by Bryan's school, Zama American Middle School and give them all of his registration paperwork. I explained to them that I didn't want him to start until next Wed. or Thurs. I have to go by the transportation office and get him a bus pass. Also, there was a question about him having a tetanus shot so I will take him to immunizations Dept. at the clinic tomorrow to check that out.

Before hubby left we went by the Housing Office to get the new Housing List. We checked into a few houses and there was nothing promising for us to look at in person. I was disappointed. We still have time, but it would be nice to know we have a house. There are several people here at the lodge that already have a house, they are just waiting for it to be vacant. I wish that was me.... But I know we will find a place eventually. Keep us in your prayers and your fingers crossed. Let's see what tomorrow brings.....

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sign Up Day

Today we had a busy morning. When you are living on a military base, halfway around the world, you have a lot of paperwork to do. Brian woke up early and checked into the base. He had to get our passports stamped so that we can go in and out of Japan multiple times. Then he had to go to legal and get a general power of attorney so that while he is out to sea, I can sign a lease for off base housing for him. Oh, us spouses get to forget our ss#'s here. Everything is done under your military spouse's #. Then he had to go to the housing office to give them a copy of his check-in orders.

He came and picked me up and we called personal property and told them we are here and gave them a contact number. GOOD NEWS!! Our express shipment is already here!! BAD NEWS!! We don't get to see it until we find a home off base! Not really too bad of news, where would I put that stuff in a hotel???

Then we walked over to the Fleet and Family Service Center and signed up for some classes. Michael and I are going to take the drivers class early, probably next Wed. Then we went to the Second Fiddle which is a Thrift Store run by the Atsugi Enlisted Spouse's Association. I found out that the next meeting is this Thursday. That will be nice to go and meet some other wives. I didn't see anything interesting in the thrift store. Then we went to the Community Bank. Community Bank is owned by Bank of America. We had to open a checking account there because there isn't a Navy Federal here on this base. It is also where I will exchange dollars for Yen.

We went over to Subway at the NEX food court and grabbed some lunch. Then, as if we didn't do enough paperwork already, we went to the clinic to turn over our medical/dental records. I made it to dental. The really sweet lady at the window noticed that I needed a crown replaced (it was noted in my record). Great. I'm thrilled to say I have an appt. on 11/10 to do that. Loads of Thrills. She also gave Bryan an appt for Orthodontic screening. GOOD!! Hopefully he will get some braces soon!!

By that time, medical was closing for lunch and we had to get back to get ready to be picked up by SK2 to go see my pets! SK2 picked us up and off we went to Camp Zama. She took a different route this time and it is really neat to look out the car windows at the shops and houses along the route. Bryan and I stopped at Zama American Middle School to pick up the paperwork that needs done to sign him up for school. It looked like a very nice school. Bryan was not happy to be there. I think he's enjoying his break from school.

We got to the Vet's office and I picked up all the paperwork I needed to fill out for the pets. They have an appt. on 11/25 to be released from quarantine. I can get it sooner if I need to. I don't think we will have a house before then. I hope we find one quick.

FINALLY, I was able to walk over and see my doggy. She was so happy to see me. She wanted me to hold her close. I miss her so much, it broke my heart to leave her again. I made Brian take her back to the cage. I just couldn't do it. Mr. Jenks, the cat, is doing well. He was happy to see us and be petted too! I think he is doing well there. They moved him to a new crate and it is large and they have a towel hanging down for him to hide behind.

After all of that, we came back to the hotel, I made some dinner and the rest of the night we are all going to rest. I am still trying to get over this lousy cold/allergies mess. I think it will be better tomorrow. But, I'll be sadder tomorrow about my honey leaving. Oh well, such is the military life. Ups, downs and in-betweens.

I do have to say that I have met some really nice people the last few days. They are all in the same boat we are in and it's nice to know that you can have a chat with someone who understands.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

You Read The Bill!!

We had our first off base adventure today. What fun we had!! It is also Bryan's 13th Birthday! The Torii at the left is at the front of the base. We wanted to take Bryan somewhere to eat for his birthday. We looked at a guide and decided on a restaurant and memorized the directions. So we went straight out the main gate and turned left. Along the sides of the street there was a lot of small businesses and small houses. The Japanese love flowers and most of the houses had lots of potted flowers outside of them. We wanted to go by a used car lot to check out the prices and types of cars that were available. This is the sign for the lot that we stopped at. This lot was recommended to us. There is a lot of paperwork that you have to do to buy and register a car in Japan. This lot actually will do all the work for you and just deliver you the car ready to go. The owner speaks 7 languages. I looked at a PINK Nissan Cube. It was soooo cute. It was a 2000 model and they were asking $2200 for it. It was in very good condition. I especially liked the electric fold-in mirrors. The roads are so narrow here that it is a neccessity. Hubby says we'll think about that one. He likes it for me because people will see the PINK and the BLONDE and get out of the way!! LOL!! It will be awhile before I am actually able to start driving. Probably about 3 weeks. I have to have a car before we move off base though.

I couldn't believe some of the signs. I took a picture of one so you all could see one. This one is fairly easy, they get much, much more complicated. We don't live in Atsugi City. NAF Atsugi is actually in Ayase City.

The next thing we came to was a Patisserie (bakery). YUM, YUM, YUM. I can't tell you how delicious everything looked. We purchased a choc. torte cake slice, a fruit cup in a teddybear ceramic holder, and a chocolate dessert all for under $10. The good thing is that the portions are small so you can have a bite of different things and share them.

When we crossed the street at the bakery, there was a Daiei on the corner. It was very large 3 story mall w/ a parking garage. This shrine was there on the corner. This is the first we saw. They are supposed to be everywhere around Japan. I'm not sure what they are called yet. Daiei is a mall. We didn't make it to the 3rd floor. Because we are between a/c and heat, it was hot in there. The second floor was like a wal-mart. There was all kinds of clothes and home goods. I saw some really nice rugs I'd like to get. Bryan and I purchased some bathroom items. It was funny trying to find want we needed in Japanese bottles. I bought some single use bubble bath packets. The first floor is a grocery store. It is very large. There was all kinds of things there. Everything looked so fresh!! They also had a nice bread bakery. Bryan and I went crazy in the candy aisle. We bought some tiny boxes that had fruit on the front. I kinda thought they would probably be gum and they were. And they were very good. I told Bryan, candy is universal. We all love it!! It was really funny paying for everything with yen. The cashiers talked and talked and I didn't understand a word! But the cash registers showed numerals so I knew how much to pay. I was only unsure once and the lady helped me. Japanese are very nice. The older men are more reserved, older ladies are all nice. The young kids stare and smile at you. The teens have attitude. Hmmm, sounds like America! All the kids stared at Bryan. With his blonde hair and hazel green eyes they are fascinated by him. I kept telling him before we came that they would do that, he believes me now. We went into the Japanese McDonalds. They have a Mega Mac. It is like the big mac except it has 4 patties!! I don't think we'll be having one of those anytime soon. You can also get a Teriyaki burger there. Other than that, they are pretty close to the same. We went to the 100 Yen store, which was cool, lots of neat items. I probably won't buy anything again until I look there first! Outside of the 100 yen store there was an ice cream vending machine. We purchased a orange ice and a strawberry ice. The orange one was more icy like sherbet and was in push-up form. The strawberry one was more like ice cream and in a cone like a nutty buddy. They were yummy. Bryan was really getting a kick out of the kids staring at him.
It was finally time to walk back to the restaurant we picked. It was called "Eight O's Farm" The menu listed "Steak Sets" and "Hamburg Sets". A set included drink, soup (like beef broth), salad, potato, string beans, and a ginger sauce. We also asked for garlic rice on the side. Since we don't speak any Japanese yet, we didn't tell them how to cook the steak. It came rare. Sherry doesn't do rare. Brian's steak had a part that was more med. rare and I ate that. Bryan asked for the kids plate which was a scrambled egg cake, 1 jumbo shrimp, 1 fried chicken, 1 hamburg slice, 4 french fries. He kinda picked at his. I let him eat my rice which was very good. The dish was good, just a little over cooked. I was pretty happy that we were able to order at all and have no problems. We had a little bit of fun before we went in trying to ask Japanese families if they took credit card. It's amazing the game of sharades you have to play. But they were so wanting to help us. So we had our first dinner out surrounded by Japanese. We paid by credit card and it was $6510 Yen for 3 people. This is about $65. I saw a lady walking a very cute dog. The boys about died laughing when I mixed up my words and said "Cat" to her. She chuckled too as I remembered it was supposed to be "inu" instead of "neko".
We truly all had a wonderful day. Bryan loved his birthday and is so excited to be here in this country around these lovely people. I am too. It was a good day and I see hope that we really will enjoy our time here.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Weather N Such

So are you wondering what our weather is like here in Japan? It is a lot like the weather in Virginia this time of year. It is around 65-68 degrees in the daytime, sunny or partly cloudy. We haven't had any rain yet. It gets down to about 40 at night, I think.

We have an interesting time here on the base about a/c or heat. Apparantly the Japanese government pays our electric bill for this base. Japanese are very proficient in conserving energy. I think this is a very good thing. How that translates to us is that we are in a 30-40 day period where there is no a/c or heat. It will get pretty cold here before they turn on the heat. I knew about this before we left. I packed long sleeve shirts and stocked up on hoodies and sweaters for all of us. Exception of Michael of course. He actually wore a pair of long pants yesterday. He only owns 1 or 2 jackets/hoodies. He is a very stubborn person when it comes to outerwear. I have a feeling he will change his mind later. Grandma, you may have to come to his rescue later. JCPenney does ship to the base. I saw one of their boxes yesterday at the post office.

We slept a little better last night. In fact it is 7:15 Atsugi time and the boys are still snoozing. They actually stayed up until 9 p.m. last night. Oh, I think I just heard a yawn. I still have this blasted cold and didn't sleep well. My wonderful hubby just left to go to the mini mart to get more meds for me. I am determined to lick this cold so I can explore. I want to get to the store to buy my Bryan a cake for his birthday today. If we go by Georgia time where he was born, his birthday won't be until 1 a.m. tonight. HA HA. I think we'll eat the cake before then. I'll post a pic of his cake later.....

Day TWO - Atsugi, Japan

Well, let's just say that none of us have our body clocks on the right schedule..... The boys were up at 2 a.m. Brian was up at 3 a.m. and I was TRYING to sleep but have a terrible head cold. I finally gave up at 5:30 a.m. and took some DayQuil and some Coffee and got ready for the new day.

The boys and I went over to the NEX Food Court and had some Yummy Dunkin' Donuts. Some of the flavors and coatings are different here. Bryan's favorite glazed donut didn't have much glaze on it. He didn't like it like that. Most were the same though. I have noticed that the coffee here tends to be VERY STRONG. I don't know if it's because we are in Japan or just because it is a military base. Probably the latter.

We strolled over to the Post Office and finished up the paperwork for our PO Box. They gave us a box all the way on the top. It was very funny watching Michael trying to open it 5 or 6 times. Mom got it on the first try. That's unusual. Usually Michael can get everything first. Score 1 for Mom. The postal workers were very nice and didn't seem to show any signs of undue stress. (HA HA little joke for Dad!!) NOTE: THERE WAS A SIGN POSTED THAT SAID IF WE WANTED TO SEND OR HAVE MAIL RECEIVED IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS, LETTERS/CARDS SHOULD BE MAILED BY DEC. 11TH AND PACKAGES BY NOVEMBER 13TH. I was shocked! How in the world can I have everything done by then?

We meandered to the Mini Mart and found some plastic clothes hangers for $1.49/10. I also bought some salt/pepper, sugar and Splenda. It's amazing I didn't think of these things at the grocery store yesterday.

NOTE: I forgot to tell you all about Money. We did purchase some YEN the other day. We haven't used any yet. The base stores all take American Dollars. I did hear there are Japanese restaraunts on base that take YEN only. It's been nice to not have to worry about it yet. The YEN rate is terrible right now. It is 95 YEN to a $1. This is very low. We want it to be at least 100 to $1. If it goes up to 105 or more, we will exchange as much as we can.

We attempted to go to the SmashMouth outside concert today. They had 4 bands total playing. There were many activities for the little kids and there were 4 or 5 food booths set up. The food booths were all fundraising booths for different commands or clubs on base. Mostly offered hot dogs, hamburgers, drinks, pizza or command merchandise like t-shirts, etc. Lots of nice people spoke to us. It was really windy though and with my head cold we decided to come inside.

I tried to take a nap and couldn't and just cleaned up to get ready for the afternoon. The boys took a walk back to the concert. Brian was brave and ventured off base for a walk. He went about 8 blocks and came back. He said he did walk into a Pachinko parlor and said it was crazy. I'll have to explain that some other time.

After everyone came back, we headed over to the bowling alley. Bryan picked a bowling ball with the help of the bowling alley manager, Bret Dunn. Mr. Dunn is a professional bowler and was very helpful picking a ball for Bryan. He ordered the ball today and we should have it ready in a week or so. This was my birthday present for Bryan. His 13th birthday is tomorrow! Wow! My baby boy is a Teenager! YIKES!!

I need to think about something special for him for tomorrow. We may venture off base to find a nice dinner place. Maybe we'll go to Mike's which is a mexican place. ????

The guys tried to go by the teen center but it was closed today. Now we are all back at the Lodge and it is 6:20 p.m and we are all struggling to stay awake. We are trying to get it right for a good night's sleep tonight. Brian and Michael may cross the parking lot to go to a Movie tonight. Lil Bryan and I can play some cards....We'll see.

End of our 2nd full day and it seems like it's been a week already! Very Odd!! Sunday should be a more relaxing day. Monday will bring a busy day again.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Finally In Japan!!

We have arrived! 11 Months of preparation, anxiety, excitedness, research, and work has culminated into a smooth and successful arrival for our family. We have been here for a smidgen over 24 hours and it is difficult for me to put into words our experience. Fatigue has set in and it is all running together, so I'll start at the beginning.

We arrived at the airport in Virginia on schedule. Checking in at the counter took about 20-25 mins. because the pets had to be checked in and all of our luggage and passports had to be checked. We went through security very quickly with no issues. The first flight from Norfolk to D.C. went as planned except for Dolly losing her stomach. When we arrived in DC we were able to clean her up and requested that she continue to Narita as a carryon with me. I thought she needed close watching because of how sick she was on the first flight.

This is the inside of the United 777. There was 5 seats in the middle and 2 on each side. We each had our own monitor in the back of the seat in front of us. We flew economy plus and there was plenty of room for all of us in the seats and for leg room.

They were showing 8 different current movies during the flight. You could pick which one you wanted to watch or you could listen to music or watch a map of the flight.

The map was really neat because they also showed you screens that had our mileage and speed and outside temperature.

We actually flew right by the North Pole and then down over Siberia! I asked Bryan if he wanted to talk to Santa! He said, "No, he's mad because I'm going to Japan instead of the North Pole." The coldest the outside air was shown was -77F. I was so shocked that the plane could go through that cold of weather. The trip was 7240 miles long. We arrived near the North Pole at 3347 miles into the trip. Our high speed was approx. 700 mph.

The food was relatively good. Our first meal was beef brisket w/ mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes, veggies, oatmeal cookie and a roll. They also were offering chicken curry. Our middle of the trip snack was chinese noodles which we ate with chopsticks. The last meal you could have a hot ham and cheese on a pretzel roll or veggie lasagna. They gave you o.j., yogurt, and a jelly shortbread cookie with it.

We were very, very happy to land in Japan. 14 hours of flying is no FUN. But it was tolerable. The first thing we all did was use the restroom! And to our delight we encountered our first FANCY Japanese toilets. They have buttons for bidet, spray, music and something else ? that I don't remember. I had been warned already about the spray--it goes to your bum! They are warmed toilet seats too. Very interesting.

I was so worried about going through customs, immigration and animal quarantine processes. The first thing we did was fill out an immigration form and presented it to the immigration official. They were polite but very serious. We had no issues. They stamped our passports. I still haven't had a chance to look at the first stamp in my passport! We then went down 4 escalators and looked for our luggage. They had all our luggage and our cat altogether!! There was a gentleman standing there waiting for us. I don't know how they did that!! Everyone else from our flight was already processed and gone when we got there. I guess they didn't stop to play with the toilets!

Here's a picture of all our luggage and animals. Over to the right you can see the customs officials waiting to check you through. Once we had our luggage, we proceeded to the animal quarantine desk. After much looking over of documents, they stamped a bunch of papers gave me a sheet that said we had no further quarantine and gave me a slip to give to the customs to let them know the pets could go with us. They also gave me a sheet that has to be completed by the Army Vet at Camp Zama. They were very nice and spoke very shyly in broken english. I was so relieved I had completed all the paperwork accurately.
Then we went through the customs counter, which was odd. They didn't even check anything. We filled out a form and they said go ahead. Once you pass through customs, you arrive at the airport exit. It was a very efficient airport. I was amazed.
A very kind command sponsor showed up with our Japanese driver to pick us up in a large van. There was just enough room for all of our luggage and all of us. The driver drove VERY FAST through Tokyo and Yokohama to get us to Zama. We arrived at Zama much faster than we thought we would. I think it took about 2 hours to get there from the airport. The kennel manager met us at the kennel to check in the pets. I was very, very sad to leave my babies there. It was very clean and large kennels, but after everything else they had already been through that day, I was angry with myself and felt like they were being tortured. The lady there assured me they would be just fine.
We hopped back in the van to head to Atsugi. The highways were a blur to me due to exhaustion. We were all amazed about everyone driving on the wrong sides of the road. It didn't take long to go from Zama to Atsugi. We arrived at the gate and our sponsor requested the driver stop at the McDonald's so we could get some dinner. The McDonald's was very nice and very clean, modern. The employees were all Japanese. They were very polite and very efficient. We hopped back in the van to get to the hotel which was 1 1/2 blocks away. We arrived at the hotel, checked in at the desk and scampered to our rooms on the first floor.
Hmmm....I'm still forming my opinion about the Navy Lodge. It IS old and musty. There are spiders trying to get me...... It is mostly very clean. The staff is very polite and friendly and helpful. It is just okay for now. I do appreciate the deep bathtub and the internet service. The boys are in an adjoining room. The command ombudsman left us flowers, milk, juice, fruit, pb and jelly, bread and some other things. That was so NICE!!
We were pooped. As I was putting some clothes away, my husband started snoring. The boys went to bed quick too. I have gotten a stupid cold. I woke up at 2:00 a.m. Japan time and started crying about everything. I did so good not crying before we left and it all caught up to me. I feel good today.
We woke up early and made some more phone calls to family and friends. We walked over to McD's and had some breakfast then walked 1 more block and purchased some basics at the commissary. We came back and was putting the groceries away when the command sponsor arrived and announced that my hubby had to leave to go to the ship next week. We were SHOCKED! They weren't supposed to do that at all. He wasn't supposed to leave until next year. He won't be out too long, thank goodness. Brian went with her to see if they could change their minds. Didn't work but he did have two more days added to be here. After that, we went and checked into the housing office. They have added us to the on-base waiting list. We are number 19 on the list. She thinks maybe about a year we have to live off base. Then we talked to the off-base housing counselor and signed up for a tour of the area for next Wed. She also gave us a really nice map of the area.
The command ombudsman picked us up and took us back to Zama to check on the pets. Dolly was estatic to see me. I didn't think I would get her to calm down. She wanted to be held. The cat was happy to see us too! They both are doing very well in the kennel and I feel a little better today about it. I miss them very much. I can't wait to get them back.
After that, we returned to Atsugi. Brian and I went to the exchange and back to the commissary while the boys went bowling. We purchased a new computer monitor for Bryan's computer and some more substantial groceries that we had forgotten earlier. It's amazing what you forget when you start with nothing. When I made dinner tonight, I realized I didn't have salt and pepper. OOOPS.
It is now 8:30 p.m. Japan time and the boys are all asleep. Brian is snoring, go figure! So, I will close for now and try to get some sleep myself. Tomorrow is Saturday and we are supposed to go to the Smashmouth concert at 11:30 a.m. I need to spend the next few days really enjoying my husband before he leaves me for awhile. I won't think about that today though..... Tomorrow is Another Day.......