Wednesday, November 4, 2009

One Year Anniversary of our Atsugi Life

October 31st was our 1 year anniversary of being in Japan. Wow! It went so very fast. When I first realized it had been one year, I thought, "I am really looking forward to the next two years." It has been an amazing year for Brian and I as well as for Michael and Bryan. I have made so many wonderful friends that I'm sure I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life. I have become the Secretary for AESA (Atsugi Enlisted Spouses Association). I am so proud to be a small part of the assocation. They have given away over $44,000 this year so far. It all goes back to the community. I am also a board member for JATA (Japanese American Tomadachi Assocation). Tomadachi is Friendship in Japanese. My friends at JATA constantly surprise and amaze me with their kindness and eagerness to learn about all things American.

My close friends here at Atsugi have formed a close-knit support group as I deal with being without my beloved husband for many months of each year. I count on Leslie to always have that smile, on Robin to keep me updated about Days of Our Lives and shopping, Julie to chat with, Laura to be my girls night buddie and the list goes on and on. I am making strong new friendships with my fellow AESA board members. I look forward to getting to know them better.

I have become so used to small community life that it will be difficult for me to go back to being in a large community. I have come to know most people on base and am recognized wherever I go. Yes, it is different. But it feels like home and I am so blessed to have this opportunity to be "where everyone knows my name".

Japan is a constant adventure, a new surprise just waits everytime you drive off the base. Brian and I had the good fortune to take a tour to Hiroshima, Miyajima Island, and Himeji Castle. It was a long 10 hour bus ride to get there, but WOW was it worth it. The beauty of Miyajima island with its water surrounded Torii was and temple was awe inspiring. The majesty of Himeji Castle again left us in awe. Hiroshima with it's shell of a building from the bombing was solemn and peaceful at the same time. We loved the trip and I was able to check off 3 places on my desired locations to visit list.
Our one and only sad spot from being in Japan is that Hunter, my stepdaughter, cannot come to visit us here. Unfortunately, her Mother is not supportive of her relationship with her Father at all. We are so sad that she will never have this experience. We pray that God will touch her heart and help her to see that Hunter needs her Father's love in her life.
One of the greatest blessings of our time in Japan is that Brian and I's still young marriage has absolutely blossomed. Navy life tends to pull a marriage together or apart and we have been lucky. We are all in this overseas life together and enjoying it so very much. Brian wishes that he was home more with me, but in return he has gotten to see China, Thailand, Australia, Singapore, Phillipines and others. Next year I will have the opportunity to visit him in some of those places. Each time he reaches a port he calls me and wishes for me to be there. Even with the separation we feel blessed that technology allows us to email everyday and to talk at least once per week.
We are all looking forward to the holidays together. I am the chairperson for the AESA Annual Holiday Party and am very busy with the planning of the party for 100 people. Our theme is Winter Wonderland and I am enjoying the planning and my committee very much.
I need to blog more, but have been too busy lately!!! I walk everyday, do water aerobics twice per week, have 9-10 meetings per month, take Japanese Washi Paper class every week, along with being a full-time Mom with no Dad in the house. Whew! Sometimes I need a vacation!! But, it almost feels as if I am on a full-time vacation here at Atsugi.
Bryan turned 14 the other day. He is growing up so quick!!! He runs around the base like he owns it now. Lots of girls trying to talk to him and his many friends always ringing the door bell. I am so proud of the man he is growing up to be. He finally had his complete braces put on the day after his birthday. He looks so cute!!
Michael is still teaching English to Japanese students in Chigasaki. He is closer to getting a DOD job at Camp Zama Middle School. We think it is funny that he will work where Bryan goes to school. Once he is hired, I will take over his English classes and I am really looking forward to that!!
Well, thank you Atsugi for giving us a warm and wonderful welcome to Japan. We look forward to all you have to offer for the rest of our time here. :>)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Moving to the Base

What a crazy time for us this month. We were notified that we are moving to the base. Great time to move; it is rainy season, my husband is at sea, Michael has to have his gall bladder surgery soon, etc., etc., etc. Needless to say, it has been slightly stressful this month. But, we have had some good times too. We went to see Transformers before it even came out in America at the Japanese Movie theater at Vina Walk in Ebina. Toho Cinemas is a really nice theater. All the amenities of a good theater back home with a really large viewing screen. Of course, we enjoyed the movie!!! I'm not allowed to say more except that it "exceeded my expectations." (Brian is on the ship and unable to watch it yet.)

This week we have been very busy packing, cleaning, packing, cleaning, making arrangements, packing and cleaning. Because I have a dog, we could not move into the Towers on base (I didn't want to anyway!). Once you deny a tower, you get put on a waiting list for a garden apt. or a townhouse depending on your choice. We wanted a townhouse because they have been newly renovated and have a nice fenced yard. If you choose a garden apt., you can be on the first floor or second and that wouldn't have been very convenient either. So, we have a nice, newly re-done townhouse that you would feel like you were in a townhouse in the states (minus the fireplace). I will write more about that later.

Because we turned down the tower and waited on the townhouse, we have to PAY FOR THE MOVE TO BASE OURSELVES. Not only that, but the base doesn't help with the move AT ALL. I had to call movers myself. Only one replied. It is extremely expensive to get a moving company. We are only going to have them move the heavy furniture. Michael and I are going to move everything else in a van I rented for two days from the base. There is no sign of the rain letting up anytime soon. So, this should be lots and lots of fun.

I have practically put myself into bed cleaning like a maniac. I probably didn't need to go to the lengths that I did because I have a very kind landlord and the place wasn't this clean when I moved in, but.... I had heard some horror stories about people getting charged lots of money for cleaning fees because the owner couldn't smell the cleaning supplies in the air. Also, I have heard that they sometimes try to blame you for things prior tenants have done. So, of course, I have worried and went overboard to make sure we aren't charged anything else. Now I have told myself, if they charge me anything, that's just the way it goes, because I honestly couldn't get it any cleaner than it is. (I have become intimate with the toilet, and I don't like him very much.)

Everything else about moving from off base to on base goes pretty smoothly. The landlord is responsible for turning off the utilities (except the internet and that was an easy phonecall). Also, he will give me any of my deposit and remaining rent back on the day of the inspection which I think is really cool. So, I should walk away with at least $2K or more on that day.

We will miss our little Japanese house. I will really miss my quiet neighbors and the anonymity of living in a foreign neighborhood. On the base, you can't go anywhere without running into at least 2 or more people you know. At least off base, even if they know who the blonde is, they only smile quietly. I will also really miss the little bakery down the street with its sweet clerk who sang me a song from the Sound of Music and the 7-11 across the block. I am very honored that I had this experience and will remember it always.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Kakegawa Castle

Bryan and I took another tour. This one was all day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The really great thing about it was our friends, The Takanami's came with us. There is Shigeru-san, the Father, Akemi-San, the Mother, and two sons, Nataku who's 12 and Yakimo who's 3. Although there was 3 parts to the tour, I will post a separate blog on each. The last part of the tour was to Kakegawa Castle. This is from the tour program: "Plans for Kakegawa Castle were first laid during the Muromachi Period, when the famous Suruga Daimyo Road Imagawa was aiming to move into Toutoumi region. To accomplish this, he ordered his retainer, Asahina to build the castle. During the period of the Warring States, Yamanouchi Kazutoyo, famous for the episode of his supporting wife, was in charge of the castle for 10 years. Even while organizing the area around the castle and undertaking major repairs of the damage the castle suffered during the violence of the conflict, he followed through on the construction of Tenshukaku Donjon. During the Edo period, eleven families for 26 generations, including the Ota family, descendents of the builder of Edo Castle, Ota Dokan, flourished as the occupants of Kakegawa Castle. The beauty of Tenshukaku mad the place famous as the best castle in the Tokai area. Kakegawa Castle reflects that original beauty, as the first fully restored wood construction of its kind in Japan. Tanshukaku was re0pened in April of 1994. The Tehshudai, which overlooks the city of Kakegawa, stands 56 meters above sea level. It offers a great view of the city streets surrounded by natural beauty and greenery." Whew! That was a mouthful! What that implies is that the castle was destroyed. There was a very rich lady that lived in Kakegawa City who wanted it to be rebuilt as it was before it was destroyed. She, alone, donated ONE HALF of the money to rebuild the castle, the rest was donated by ALL the citizens of Kakegawa. So, the each have ownership and responsibility of the castle.
It was our first tour to a castle and it was really beautiful. There were LOTS OF STEPS leading up to it!! Inside the castle, it had really steep stairs. And actually what we think of as the "castle" is actually the "Keep" or the place that people went when the castle grounds were under siege. Thus the reason for the VERY steep stairs inside. The living quarters are actually in another building entirely. When the paragraph above mentions Yamanouchi Kazutoyo's Wife, it refers to his smart wife. She had a lot of money from her Dowry. She took the money and purchased her husband a magnificent horse. Her husband became well known because of this majestic horse and they give her the credit for being wise to help her husband.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Passing the Time

Since our Guys are gone for 4-6 months out of the year, what do we do to pass the time? Well, one of things we do is go to parties. No, I don't mean PARTIES. I mean Women's Parties. Like Partylite Candle parties, Pampered Chef, Stamp It Up and Close to My Heart. Today, I went to my first scrapbooking party. It was a Close to My Heart party. We made a card to send to our husbands. Close to My Heart has some really cool products. I'm way behind on the scrapbooking front. They now have acrylic stamping blocks that you just peel off the rubber part you want, put it on a block and stamp away. No more bulky block stamps to store. Very cool idea!!! Check out their website at

They also have way cool card making kits. Who wants the same old Hallmark card when you can give them a unique homemade creation. And they are really, really beautiful. It is very relaxing to make a card too!

I DO have one scrapbook done since we came to Japan. It is from Halloween to January. Pretty good huh? I only have FOUR months to catch up on!!! That's a lot of pictures!!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mystery Lunch

I belong to the Atsugi Enlisted Spouse Association. AESA is a big thing on the base here in Japan. We meet once per month for our general meeting. At the meeting, we discuss association business, get to voice concerns directly to the Command Master Chief, socialize, and we always have an activity. For example, last month we made the Mother's Day Card I blogged about right before Mother's Day. AESA does a tremendous amount for our base community. They run a second hand store and they generate more money for base organizations than any other association combined. The second hand store is very well run and much better than the second hand store at the larger base. AESA also gives out scholarships every quarter.

They provide a very nice Christmas party, a summer party and a surprise trip every year. This year they went to Disneyland Tokyo. They paid for everything and even gave spending money. Unfortunately, I missed the sign up this year. They also have started up a book club. I haven't tried that yet.

Along with our montly meeting, there is always a monthly activity. Usually in the form of a Mystery Lunch or Mystery dinner. What's the Mystery? The location! Today I went to my first Mystery event. It was a lunch and we all drove over to Grandberry Mall and went to the Chinese Buffet. I thought I would tell you what is different about a Chinese Buffet in Japan. The first thing is that the food is more authentic Chinese. It's really very different than any buffet you would find in America. They do have some similar foods, but not a lot. I can't find my Beef and Broccoli here in Japan.

They are big on "food stations" here in Japan. They have a Ramen noodle station. They make two different kinds of Ramen. There is the pork cutlet ramen with a darker soup and there is a clear broth type with some strange veggies in it. (Like norii-seaweed.) They have gyoza stations that have different types of gyoza. That's kind of like a perogii with meat in it. Then they have the buns with bean paste in them. No, I haven't tried it. They did have a lot of mixed dishes at this particular chinese buffet. I tried the meatballs and they were delicious. Add them to the sticky rice and you've got a yummy little dish.

All the restaurants have dessert stations with different types of tiny desserts. Most have ice cream. Most of them also have a drink bar. This particular drink bar was 210 YEN for unlimited refills. They had oolong tea, coke, fanta, alot of different juice drinks and coffee. I haven't been brave enough to taste the vegetable juice with vinegar in it. YUCK.

Another thing that is odd to me is that when you go in you ask for a particular time period. For example, it is 1500 yen for 2 hours at the buffet. Wow, if you need two hours you should really stay away from buffets. LOL!

It was a very pleasant mystery lunch and I look forward to the mystery event next month!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Vina Walk Store Finds

We have been in Japan long enough for me to find a few places to shop that I absolutely love. One of those places is Vina Walk. It has all the requisite American-like things that you tend to miss. Like Starbucks, KFC, Baskin Robbins, Outback Steakhouse, a movie theater, a game center (arcade), and much, much more. There is a HUGE dept. store, a pet store, and any other kind of shop you might want to browse in.
I have found two shop there recently that I know I will be returning to. My friend Laura and I found "B-Stationary". It is a really nice stationary store. They have more than what you would normally think a stationary store will have. We found some Japanese writing pads and envelopes that are absolutley exquisite. They have a smattering of photo albums, scrapbooking stuff, pens galore, stickers galore, lots of childrens diaries and stuff. I saw things that I never dreamed of seeing in the states. My favorite purchases so far: Some Japanese post cards in English. They have a very cute little girl on them talking to a polar bear. I found a travel notebook. It has a small notepad and a small accordian file that fits in your purse. I keep my ticket stubs and other things that I pick up being a tourist and this will come in very handy. I purchased some really nice cards and japanese stickers for my scrapbooking. I can't wait to go back in 6 months and see what they have new.
The second store is called "Four Seasons". If you are a Francophile, this is the store for you. EVERYTHING in the store is French manufactured by a Japanese company. They had so many cute things, I stayed in there for an hour browsing. I purchased a long handled dust pan and broom that is in the shape of a duck. A little tiny jar that had Paris stuff on it and "made in Japan" and a metal scroll sign that says "Welcome" that I want to hang at the front door. I must go back to this store, I saw about 10 other things that I have to have!!

Japanese Movie Theater

We went to see a movie at the Toho Cinemas at Vina Walk shopping center in Ebina, Japan. Guess what? Japanese movie theaters are a lot like American ones! Of course there were some key differences. The first thing that we said, "hmmm" to was picking our seats. We purchased our tickets, then the attendent showed us a map of the theater and asked us where we would like to sit. We picked the ones right in the middle! We purchased our tickets hours before the show we were watching, then had some dinner and shopping before the show.

Then, you notice the movie shop in the middle of the lobby area. They have some really cool posters, and lots of movie paraphanalia. They also have a little cafe inside the movie theater that offers salads and sandwiches and ice cream. When we arrived at the snack counter, we saw that they had similar offerings of the states, plus a little more. You could get $5 individual sized Godiva ice cream, really nice hot dogs, caramel popcorn, and many other items. We settled for Coke and "salt" popcorn.

The theater itself was very nicely done and very clean. Reminded me of the Mall of Georgia theater seats. It was extremely large. The next thing I noticed was that the screen was the new IMAX touted screen. The one that is larger than a regular movie screen but only a 1/4 the size of a real IMAX screen. We actually got to see a preview of the Transformers movie and we all decided that we must come back to this theater to see it. Transformers has been filmed in IMAX film this time.

It took us a few minutes to get used to the Japanese subtitles, but it didn't diminish the movie watching experience for us. The Japanese are a quiet lot, so I didn't hear anything above a few whispers from the audience. I'm sure Transformers will have larger reactions and some delayed laughing with the subtitles. We can't wait!!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Weekend with my Husband

So nice to have my husband back home. Even if it is only for a few days. Friday after we ran some errands we had lunch at Skymasters. Skymasters is the CPO (Chief Petty Officer) Club on base. They have a fairly good menu of mostly American food. I didn't feel like eating, I just wanted to hug my husband!! After that we spent the afternoon getting caught up and then headed back to the base to see Star Trek (the movie). I was surprised by how good it was!!! By the time we got home, it was late and we were tired. Saturday morning I woke up early. I came downstairs for my coffee. There is just something about the quiet of a house and knowing that the love of your life and your children are tucked soundly in their beds. They are at home and safe and warm. Us military wives appreciate that feeling all the more!!! All is right with the world when you are all together. Who cares if I had dishes to do or clothes to wash or bathrooms to clean. It's all part of it, right? It was a happy morning.
Brian and I went over and picked up our good friends Julie and Charles and their youngest daughter, Rylie. We parked at the Navy parking lot and walked over to the train station. We rode the train one stop to YAMATO train station. Yamato station is a nice little area. It has lots of shopping and restaraunts and one of my favorite stores, Fuji Garden. I've blogged about it before. On this day, we came to Yamato to check out the Flea Market again. The flea market is held there every month on the third Saturday of the month. It is in a courtyard area right at the train station. I would guess there were around 70-80 tents of people selling things. Very similar to an outdoor flea market in the states.
I saw many, many things that I would have liked to buy, but I have very expensive tastes and didn't have enough $$ with me. I did find a few miniature animals to add to my collection. Two dragons, two dogs and a mini tiger. So cute!! Brian and I saw a framed painting that we really liked. The price on it was 8000 yen. That's about $80.00. We said we would think about it and kept looking. When we arrived at the end of the rows, Brian said, "I really liked that picture. Do you think I can offer him 40.00 for it?" So, we made our way back there and he accepted 4300 yen for the picture. We really made a deal. The frame alone is worth more than that!! What do you think of the picture? It is really cool. It looks like it is smears of paint on metal. Almost a metallic paint. The gold in it is very vivid. It may be gold leaf? The back of the painting has a card with the information in Kanji or Japanese. I will have one of my friends translate it for me.
After we finished our browsing, we all went to the "Italian Tomato Cafe Jr." for lunch. We had pizza with chicken on it, a nice green salad, mango juice, two Latte's, and some strawberry cake. YUM! It was very good. It was about $25.00 for all of that. Julie had spaghetti and it was also very good.
That evening, we rented some movies, and then we got bored. So Brian and I went over to Neverland 2. This is a game center that I have also blogged about before. We decided to play one of the "medals" games. They are similar to quarter machines in the states. You know where you put your quarters in and then it pushes all the quarters forward and dumps them out. Well, the Japanese ones are much, much more fun. You get to win jackpots on them and Brian was lucky enough to win a JACKPOT. He won over 1900 medals. You save them and go back again to use them when you want to waste more time!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Good Feelings, Happy Moments

You know it's the little things that brighten people's days. Like getting warm and loving e-mail's from your husband. It was very nice to hear from him. He is getting along okay out there in that big blue ocean.

Other things, like knowing your diligence to save electricity and gas paid off. We saved about $40.00 this month on our electric bill. Our gas bill reduced by about $30.00. That is $70.00 I can put towards tours or travel!! Brian purchased two laundry rods for me to hang clothes on now that it is warm enough. That is where most of the $40 savings came from. I hang the clothes out until they are mostly dry, then throw them in the dryer for 20 minutes instead of 60 or 80 mins. You should try this and see if it saves you money too!

Of course, if you are a working Mom, I realize that this is difficult. Maybe you can think of other ways to conserve on your utilities. I also refuse to go to the commissary without taking coupons. That savings adds up very quick as well. Brian really appreciates the work I put into planning our shopping and saving money. I think that it contributes to him not minding if I splurge every now and then on an item that is luxury not neccessity. (Okay, maybe a little more than "every now and then".)

I am very happy that I have finished purchasing the items for Hunter's monthly gift box. I know she will really like some of the items I picked up for her. Bryan also found something for her when we were at Fuji Safari Park. I'm sure she'll love that, too!

I have so much to mail out this month. I have a package for my Mom, Hunter, The Pacheco's, Grandma Swan and my sister, Michelle. We are very thankful here that we can use the same postal rates as if we were inside the United States. It would be very, very expensive if we had to send packages through the Japanese mail system.

I am sorry to be missing my nephew, Josiah's 4th birthday. I want to find him some silk pajama's. Apparently, he has decided that GREEN is his favorite color. I will have to find them soon. His sister, Savannah, is looking forward to me sending her a Kimono. They have beautiful, cotton, children's kimono's here. They come in all sorts of prints. I especially like the ones with cherry blossom's on them. A lot of the Japanese and some American's like to wear Kimono's when they go to park's or zoo's. Like Disney Tokyo for example. Because it is like a cotton robe, it is very comfortable to wear when it is hot outside. Yes, even the men wear them. Of course, they have undershirts and underwear or shorts on underneath.

Bryan and I went bowling last night; his favorite past time. He won the first game and I won the second. HA! He's not so good that MOM can't beat him once in a while. He finished his bowling league. See his trophy? He is getting so TALL. A lot of people think he is 14, 15 or 16 now. I wish I could freeze him at this age for a little while. He is growing up too fast for me. I am so proud of the young man he is becoming. He is warm, loving, thoughtful and responsible. (Yes, I know he's my son!) He's been obsessed lately with what he wants to be when he grows up. His latest idea is to become an Orthodontist. I wonder if that has anything to do with him getting braces. Everytime he thinks of a new occupation, he looks it up on the internet to see salaries and information. Yesterday, he said, "Mom, you need to get me a financial advisor!" HA! I asked him why he needs a financial advisor now before he even has a job? He couldn't answer that one, YET.

Michael is also doing very well. He has lost a lot of weight. He has probably dropped 35 pounds or more since we have been in Japan. He is just too busy to eat, I think. He is very proud of himself and so am I. He won't let me buy him any new clothes yet. He has talked off and on about wanting to join the Air Force. He knows he has to lose more weight before he could talk to the recruiters. I'm not sure what I think about that idea. For now, it is good that it is giving him motivation to better himself.

This coming week is a busy one for all of us. Hubby will get home. Bryan is working very hard on his math grade and getting his orthodontic appliance on Tuesday. It is Michael's last week of work at the Home Store on base. He is going to get more English teaching positions. They pay better. I have many miscellaneous errands and meetings to attend. I am also taking a chigri-e class this week. Chigri-e is a Japanese art form. You use torn, very thin, opaque, colored paper to make pictures. This is a very complicated one by a very, very talented artist, Masako van Leijenhorst. The picture I will attempt to make is much simpler. It is of Mount Fuji with cherry blossoms. We will see how it comes out!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Fuji Safari Park

Bryan and I went to Fuji Safari Park on an MWR Tour. It was his Spring Break, and continuing our zoo/animals theme, I thought he might enjoy this tour. HE DID AND SO DID I. Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!! I have been to a nice Safari Park in Staunton, Virginia. It was drive through and you could feed the deer and such, but I haven't EVER dreamed I would feed a LION and a BEAR. Shall I start at the beginning? We started our bus ride going west towards Mount Fuji. What beautiful Sightseeing there was from the bus. You go past the tea fields and get incredible views of Mount Fuji. It is a sight to behold. Have you ever seen a stand alone Volcano? It is amazing. All covered in snow and almost perfectly formed. We can actually see Fuji from the base on a clear day. But, it doesn't compare with actually coming close to it and seeing how LARGE it is. The Japanese cannot make the "F" sound like we do, so they pronounce it Mount HOOJI. We all think this is very funny, of course. But, you get the hang of it and start calling it Mount Hooji too!
Fuji Safari Park is very close to Fuji. I was able to snap some incredible pics. You be the judge.... Mickey, our tour guide, and Michael & Bryan's honorary Japanese Grandmother, told us that we were taking a very special bus through the safari. Once we were inside the park, we saw the Tour Buses. They were each made to look like different animals. We all wanted the TIGER one, but it was not to be. We ended up with the White Rhino tour bus. We all waited patiently and boarded the bus with some Japanese visitors as well. The driver then explained to everyone (Mickey translated) the safety rules and precautions. Then we started through the first of two steel gates.
The first area we came to was the bears. There was lots of them. The Japanese bears are a little smaller. We put Carrots and Apples on the end of long steel tongs and put them through two steel mesh grates in front of us. The bear ever so gently slipped the carrots and apples off of the tongs. He was SOOOO CUTE!! Bryan kept saying, Mom, that bear isn't cute! But, he was!! I wanted to give him a hug!! LOL!!!
The next section we went into was the Lions. I have never, ever seen so many lions. There was 30 or more. The lionesses looked very calm and beautiful. One came over to get some steak from the tongs. She gently ate a piece. THEN, MR. LION CAME TO EAT AND HE WAS SSSSCCCAAARRRYYYY. He roared at the lioness and It was very unsettling to say the least. It was a loud roar and he was UUUGGLLYY. He had been in a fight and wasn't looking pretty. It kind of grossed us both out.

So, yep, we fed the Mr. Lion too! Then we went into the TIGER section. Again, there was about 30 tigers in there. They are more active in the early morning and late at night. So, they didn't come near the bus. They were lounging around and I particularly liked the one who was sleeping with his head upside down. I wish we could have seen more of the tigers. They are just so beautiful.

After that was the cheetahs. The cheetahs were also a sight to behold and were lounging around too. They must feed them well. After that, it was elephants, zebras, giraffes, rhinos, camels, deer, watusi's, and others. It was a very nice safari ride and we will always remember it.Once we finished our safari, we were able to explore the rest of the Park. They had a dog house and a cat house. The brochure said that for a fee you could go in and see and pet lots of different types of dogs and/or cats. We chose the dog house first. It was okay. There was about 25 dogs in there. Most of them had already had enough human interaction for the day. They were trying to stay away from the smallest children. There was a honey colored long-haired dauschund that got in Bryan's lap and wanted to stay there. We stayed in there about 15 mins. then headed over to the cat house. The cat house was just OK. The cat's REALLY didn't want to be bothered and it smelled like cat PEE. YUCK.

After that, we had some lunch at the Safari Cafe. Bryan was brave and tried some beef curry which he really liked. I had the kids plate and it was yummy. I especially liked my elephant shaped bread. The hamburg and hot dog was yummy. We also both had an ice cream crepe for dessert. YUM.

It was time to stroll through the petting zoo part of the park. They had some really stinky sheep that I wouldn't let Bryan touch. They needed a bath REAL BAD. Then we saw a building that had a large cage with very small monkeys. There was a sign to be careful that they might bite you. Bryan touched one anyway and they were very cute. We really liked seeing the two hippos. They were really cool! Then we saw a sleeping Hyena. That was different. We also liked touching the Chinchilla, he was so soft. I was able to hold a white hamster that was gentle. We liked seeing the sheep dogs. Bryan got a kick out of a Japanese person jumping when the dogs came by. Not many people here have big dogs like that. They also had a petting zoo of kangaroos. We didn't get to pet them and I'm kinda glad. I was worried about the germs there too.
The park also has an American Miniature Horse "Ranch". They actually have a race twice per day of the horses. You can "Bet" on them and if your horse wins, you get a stuffed mini horse. The rest of the time, the horses are used for kiddie rides. They do have a parade in the middle of the day where they tied all the horses together and rode through the park to some circus music. They were very cute and the children loved it.
We really enjoyed ourselves at the park. It was a beautiful, relaxing day to spend some time together enjoying nature and the animals.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all of the Mom's out there! Hope you have a wonderful one. I know this wish is a little early........

I went to the AESA (Atsugi Enlisted Spouses Assoc) meeting tonight. We had a mexican potluck. There was all kinds of yummy foods to try. After we finished eating, we made a Mother's Day Card. It was lots of fun!!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Our Trip to Ueno Zoo

Bryan and I both love animals. We decided to take the MWR Tour to Ueno Zoo. Ueno Zoo is located in Tokyo. It is a very nice zoo that is right near Ueno Park, the National Science Museum and the Museum of Western Art.

The bus drops you off across the street from the entrance to the park. Right where it drops you off, there is a small but beautiful Shrine area. The Cherry Blossoms were in full bloom and as you walked through they were all falling softly around you. It is a magical thing and I will miss the blossoms until next year. Have you seen the movie, The Last Samurai? At the end when the Shogun is dying, he see the cherry blossoms gently falling and he says his last words, "Perfect". It is, PERFECT. You can't help but be happy during Cherry Blossom Season.

My other favorite part about this particular shrine was the water purification area. When you go to the shrine you are supposed to purify yourself by washing your hands. They have a tub of water and dippers to pull out the water. This one had a Dragon above it that was dripping water into the tub. It was really cool.

After we took some pictures at the shrine, we headed over to the zoo. You have to walk through Ueno Park to get to the zoo. It was a very busy day there. There were people everywhere soaking in the sunshine and beauty of the day. In the middle of Ueno Park they have a very nice round fountain and a lot of people were there. Around the park, they have lots of trees with stone around them. So, you can take a seat and just enjoy the breeze under the trees. We passed the National Science Museum and it's large locomotive train Engine outside of it, and the Museum of Western Art, which I must go back to visit.

We passed two men juggling with a crowd around them. We saw the interesting looking Koban (Police) station in the Park. I had to take a picture of it. It looked futuristic. We saw a small Children's amusement Park right outside of the zoo.

The zoo entrance fee was not expensive. 600 Yen for me and 200 Yen for Bryan. When we got inside we were delighted to find Western Bathrooms. This is very important for us Foreigners in Japan. I still don't like the squat option and assume I never will! Every tour we go on, we scope out the bathrooms in case we need them in a hurry!

Ueno Zoo did have a giant Panda. She died last year and they have not been able to replace her yet. We saw a lot of things in the park that had Panda's on them. I am sure they are very sad about the Panda dying. They still have the Panda's Habitat there and when we walked through they had made it into a memorial with lots of pictures of the Panda.

If this wasn't sad enough, I saw what I thought was a memorial of sorts. I saw a stand that was completely covered with brightly colored origami cranes all strung together. I have read in several places that children make the crane "ropes" and send them to different memorials. (For Example, the Hiroshima Memorial Park in Hiroshima.) Then there was a granite square with a Big Bow on it. I asked a lady in front of it what it was for. She then told me this: "In 1945 when the city was being heavily bombed, they were very concerned that the zoo animals would escape and cause injury or death to humans. They killed off most of the animals to protect the people. This memorial is for those animals." Oh! My heart ached... Such a sad story! The Japanese people are a remembering people. They do not do things in a mad or blaming way. All the memorials and descriptions I have seen about the war are done in a way that just states they were destroyed in what year and are very matter of fact. They don't EVER say who caused the damage or why. The Japanese remember the people, places, and things that were destroyed like no other culture I have seen.

The zoo was very nicely laid out. It is a good sized zoo, maybe like Zoo Atlanta. They made good use of trees in the park and there are lots of spots to stand for some shade. We saw lots of animals we had seen before and few that we hadn't seen. We only did half of the zoo then we decided to have an ice cream and french fries and head over to the National Science and Natural History Museum.
I was a little surprised that the museum wasn't bigger. They must have others. They did have a floor that had space exploration stuff and the first car engines and other. They had a floor that was all animals that was really cool. I took a lot of pictures because the animals looked SO REAL.
I found this map of North America that was Very Interesting. It was so different than the United States is now. I wonder what date it was created?

Bryan and I really enjoyed our trip to Ueno and we intend to return and finish the zoo, the science museum and the Art museum.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Power of Observations

We have settled into our lives here in Japan. Michael is working and taking online classes. Bryan is going to school and making lots of friends. I am doing so much community service and joining associations and being a tourist that I sometimes wonder how I am going to do everything. Hubby has gotten comfortable with his new command and is quickly becoming an indespensible asset to them.

All of us are more at ease going out to explore Japan. We all know how to ride the train, order at restaurants, ask for directions and introduce ourselves. I am still finding new things everyday that we took for granted in the states. When EVERYTHING is in Kanji (Japanese characters), it is hard to figure out what some things are.

I have had several "A-HA!" moments lately. On the route from the base to our house, there are lots of big buildings. Last week I figured out that one of them was a newspaper printer. Today I saw bread trucks outside of a large building. They must leave very early in the morning to get the fresh bread to the stores.

Speaking of fresh bread---Remember when you were little and your Mom or Grandma made a loaf of fresh Homemade Bread? It was warm and soft and smelled so good? You can get that everyday here. Most of the train stations have a bread shop. They sell the bread in different thicknesses. What's really neat is that you can get small portions. If you want 3 THICK slices, it's already packaged for you. If you want 6 sandwich slices, you got it! It is fresh every single day. If you wait until the end of the day, about 7 p.m., you can go in and get them marked half price!

They also have yummy pastry type stuff like hot dogs wrapped in dough, or egg croissants. They also have more community type bakeries and patisseries. We have 5 within a 15 min. walk of our house. One sells traditional Japanese pastries and cookies. One sells apple pies and other pastries. The other three are sweets bakeries. But, they are all the gourmet, OH MY GOD IT'S SO YUMMY, type. A lot of the chefs studied in Paris and you just cannot imagine the beautiful treats.

The Japanese are a hard-working, hard-playing bunch. They exercise regularly. Lots of folks are always out jogging or running. The kids are always in a sport. Our friend's son, Nataku, does Kendo. Kendo is a form of martial art that you fight with sticks. It is more for show than hurting someone.

A lot of the Japanese younger working men or "salarymen" work very long hours. Think six days per week, 12 hours per day. So, when Sunday rolls around, they are either catching up on sleep or they take the family out. For the most part, the women do not work at all if they are pregnant. I think they see it as very bad for the baby. (Go figure...)

The children all wear uniforms for school here. The littlest ones are so cute in their little uniforms. They go to school almost year round. They get a break in March, then a small one for Golden Week. Golden Week is when most of Japan goes on vacation. For us here locally, we just avoid the highways. Traffic has been more tolerable on the side streets because everyone is out of town on vacation. There are several national holidays on this week, so they combined them all into "Golden Week". Very smart, because the weather has been perfect almost every day. Today is the first day it has been a little overcast.

I have noticed that the police have been cracking down on proper use and maintenance of bicycles. I have seen about four people being reprimanded by police officers. It's funny to see them pull a bike rider over. We were told that they do this one week every year. Normally, you don't see very many accidents or police giving tickets. The Japanese are a very orderly people. In their minds, you must obey the laws. If you jaywalk even once, you must do a lot of other things wrong too!

It is a very polite society that we live in here in Japan. I have yet to encounter anyone being RUDE. People in the United States could learn some very big lessons from the Japanese. Mean people suck. I'm glad that they don't live here!!

I wonder what I will learn today?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Yokohama Port Festival and Parade at Minato Mirai 21

We took the MWR tour to Yokohama Port Festival yesterday. We had a lot of fun! My friend Laura and her son Gabe also was on the tour! Gabe is four and it is always nice to go to a parade with a four-year-old!

The Yokohama Port is where the Minato Mirai 21 is located. Minato Mirai is supposed to mean "Port of the Future". 21 is for "21st century". It is a wonderful place to be. They have upscale shopping, dining, entertainment, office buildings, sports, etc, etc, etc! The tallest building is the Landmark Tower which I have written about in past blogs. If you've read my past blogs, than you already know that this is one of my favorite areas in Japan.

Landmark Tower is located in Queen's Square Center. This is many buildings that make up the complex and they are all connected on the lower floors. There is shopping and restaurants galore. I think there is 3 or 4 floors of shopping. You can find Tiffany's, Harrods, Mikimoto and many, many more very upscale stores. However, there are lots of other affordable stores as well. There is a very nice book store there that you may find an English title you've been looking for.
They have Starbuck's Coffee and ColdStone Creamery and lots of other restaurants you may have heard of. There are very good Japanese, Italian and other food restaurants that you can try.
On this trip we didn't stay inside Queen's Square except to have lunch at Hard Rock Cafe. YUM! When you venture out the back of Landmark Tower walking the opposite direction of the Yokohama Art Museum, there is amusements galore to be found. You will see Yokohama Bay and bordering the Bay is famous YAMASHITA Park. It is a beautiful park. There is a statue there that was given to Yokohama by the City of San Diego in 1960. There are other statues and beautiful flowers in the park.

Near the park you can find Cosmo World amusement park where the great ferris wheel is and a roller coaster and a water ride. Beside Cosmo World is a children's amusement park that is very cute. I don't recall the name of it. Beside all of that is Nippon Maru Park which has the Tall Ship that you can explore. In Between you can find two different (that I saw, may be more) paddle boat areas.

If you walk through Yamashita Park and then turn right, you will come to the gate of Chinatown. It was a beautiful GATE!!!! China Town was very crowded yesterday, so we didn't get to explore very much. I did find a gorgeous chinese dress/coat for Dolly. It is Pink with Gold trim. The pink part has different colored embroidery all over it. I will take a pic later! It is adorable!

It was too crowded to eat in China Town. Before we went over to China Town, we watched most of the parade. The parade was very much like large American parades. They had school Marching Bands with costumes and arrangements like the states, Camp Zama Army Band was in it (US BAND), dance troupes, floats (the beer company one was my favorite, it was too funny!), traditional Japanese floats including a geisha girl and drummers, dragons, and of course, Miss Yokohama! This is the 150th anniversary of the opening of Yokohama Port so it was quite a festive atmosphere!

There was a whole area that had vendors and exhibits, but we just didn't have time to go there. The crowds were too large. We will go back and explore some more! We all had a good time and our feet HURT!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Flowers in Japan

I have had lots of fun going around my neighborhood and surrounding areas just taking pictures of the flowers. They are beautiful!!

I am amazed by how similar, but how different the flowers are. They have lots that are the same like pansies, etc.

They have Japanese Azaleas that are different than our azaleas in Virginia. I hope to bring some bulbs back with me when we go home.
I have put flowers out on my fence. I have four different buckets. Then, on my porch, I have 11 different buckets of flowers. They are so pretty and happy. I really enjoyed putting them out.
Around the house, I have wild salmon colored poppies growing. It looked like a bunch of weeds at first, then the poppies started blooming. I'm waiting for them to die off so I can borrow a weed eater to get rid of the weeds.
I wish you all could see how beautiful Japan is at this time of year.

Exploring Our Surroundings

Brian has 4 days off from work. He is still recovering from his jet lag after his trip to Virginia. We didn't want to venture to far from home. So, we decided to go explore a couple of train station areas that looked interesting.

Our first stop was to Sagami-Ono train station. There is lots of shopping dept. stores around that station. But, we had seen a restaurant called J's Garden and wanted to check it out. Once we exited the train station, we got our bearings (the restaurant is to the right of the train station on Highway 51) and headed to the restaurant. It was about two blocks from the station and across the street.
Their menu's had good pictures and we were able to quickly decide what we wanted to eat. This is a chain restaurant and they focus on fresh garden items and leans toward Italian food. I had a wonderful half pizza (personal pizza) that was half tomato/mozzarella and half 4 cheese pizza. They use the freshest ingredients, like you would get a pizza in Italy.
We decided to try an appetizer, Toasted Mozzarella Bread on skewers dipped in garlic/olive oil. YUMMY!!
Brian had a sirloin steak with brown gravy, baked potato and broccoli. We also had unlimited trips to the "drink bar". Drink bars are very popular here. You pay for the drink bar and you have to go get your drinks yourself, but you can go back as many times as you like. Some restaraunts add slushies and other treats at the drink bar. They usually have tea, coffee, lemonade, juice, sodas.
We both really enjoyed our meal and it was well worth the $35.00 (3500 YEN). They were busy today and had a party going in another room. But the service was EXCELLENT as usual. Here in Japan you get your food QUICK. 5 MINUTES QUICK.

We both were stuffed when we left!! We headed back to the train station, figured out which train to get on and went to Odakyu-Sagamihara station.

Sagamihara station was interesting. It was more a local crowd. We walked straight out towards the Docomo store. Docomo is a cell phone carrier. You see their stores everywhere. Like Verizon in Virginia. There is a shopping street there. It was crowded with people going back and forth to the train station.
We found a second hand store to browse around in. They had some really interesting Japanese items. Brian saw a lamp for $140.00 that he really liked. It was a water fountain lamp that the water drops from leaf to leaf. I will try to go back later and do some bargaining. We didn't have a car today, so I'd rather surprise him later. I did find a really nice wood box/nick nack display. In Japan, wood furniture that looks like steps are very popular. You can buy very large ones for your living room or you can buy small ones for table tops. They always have nice iron work corners and handles. The one I bought is small for a table top and was only 1500 yen ($15.00).

Back around the train station area, I talked Brian into going back to Sagami-Ono and getting me some Starbuck's coffee. YUM! That makes you feel like home. We took a picture of the large kite hanging at the train station. They have festival every year to fly the largest kite in Japan. This was the kite from last year? Not sure....
We took a few more pictures. Then we headed back to Minimi-Rinkan, our own train station. We rode the bus home from there!