Tuesday, December 20, 2011


I am playing around with various colors and backgrounds on the blog.  I figured that with it looking the same this past year, that it was time for a change.  I'm hoping by January that I'll have a look I'm satisfied with.  Until then, please be patient with me.  I'd also welcome any suggestions if you may have them. 

Since this is the giving/receiving season, I just wanted to comment on presents.  I feel like I fit in here in Japan because I've always been a gift-giver.  Even from a young age I liked giving people presents.  Its very satisfying seeing someones face when they are presented with a gift.  Here in Japan, my friends (American and Japanese) often give each other gifts when getting together.  I certainly don't expect someone to give me something, but its always a nice surprise.  

As much as I like getting and giving presents, I'm also enjoying the gift of spending time with friends.  I enjoy the gift of: having lunch together, getting a pedicure, drinking coffee, going shopping, and traveling to near and faraway places.  These kinds of presents you simply cannot put a price tag on. 

The centerpiece I love so much!

One of my most favorite presents this month is a handmade holiday centerpiece.  Our Japanese neighbor made it for us.  She wanted to show her appreciation for inviting her to our neighborhood ornament exchange.  This was a lovely gesture and I love looking at it on our table everyday.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ornament Exchange

The weekend before last, I had my American and Japanese neighbors over for an ornament exchange.  This is a new concept for Japanese because most of them have never gone to, or heard of this type of party.  When I sent out invitations for the party, I had no expectations as to who would come.  I was just hoping to have at least a few people.

Chocolate fondue, dips, sweets, etc.

To my surprise, we had a large turnout.  We had over 20 people here, and everyone was so excited to come to an Amerika-jin's house.  One neighbor even brought his video camera and was filming the party.  The Japanese were so generous with gifts, and food (largest chocolate bar I've ever seen, some Champagne, sweets, sushi rice, fruit and cupcakes) to share with everyone.  A large number that came spoke some English, but even the ones that didn't, had a good time.  I had someone translate the directions of an Ornament Exchange.  My only suggestion was that if someone really wanted a certain ornament, then it was okay (daijoubu) to take it.  Many Japanese are shy, or don't want to hurt someones feelings...but I gave them permission to "steal" something they wanted.

I'm just so happy to have opened up our house to the neighbors.  Next weekend I'm planning on having a few kids over to decorate sugar and gingerbread cookies.  Glad to make memories with people from our host country.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Loosing A Loved One While Abroad

Gramps and his entire family.  Kona, HI  7/09
This blog entry is a tribute to my grandfather. He left this world on Wednesday (11/30), at the age of 87. He was surrounded by his wife of 56 years, his oldest son, and his daughter; my mom. Although I knew his body had been failing him for sometime and that he wasn't going to live forever, his passing has been hard to digest, especially being so far away from home. I feel quite helpless, but luckily the guilt is lessened a bit by technology (Skype, email, etc). My mom has been trying to update me almost everyday, which has been good. I am happy to be in the loop from across the world.

My grandfather did not want a memorial service.  I am left with memories I will cherish, even if they seem small, or trivial. Here are some of the things I remember, find funny, and admire about the man I knew as my grandpa:

1).  He had an amazing memory.
2).  He wasn't the best driver. He used to floor it between stoplights and then brake abruptly when the light turned red.  Those who rode with him know exactly what I'm talking about.
3).  He was a whiz at Crossword puzzles.
4).  He taught himself Spanish.
5).  He loved reading. I was impressed that he read books in Spanish.
6).  He didn't put up with whining when I was a kid. He used to tell me as an adult that I turned out so good because he gave me the occasional spanking when I younger.
7).  He had the best laugh and smile.
8).  He hated chicken and turkey from the work he did when he was younger.  On Thanksgiving, he would eat whatever substitute my grandma would make for him.
9).  He was an extremely hard worker and did a variety of interesting work (real estate, worked at a slaughtering house, Pile Driver, Navy, etc).
10). I have many memories of us relaxing at the beach in Del Mar, CA and some vague memories of the condo in Mexico.
11). He loved his cats.
12). He was so proud of me for graduating from college (even though I was 35).
13). He was proud of Justin for getting an Engineering degree. My grandpa went to 3 years of Engineering school at The University of Washington then had to drop out of school. He was happy to give Justin his slide-rule years ago.
14). He was the youngest of 6. His parents were immigrants from Norway.
15). He loved his family very much. 

Since moving to Japan I would get regular emails from my grandparents saying how much they liked this blog. My grandpa was in Yokohama during the war, and probably went to some of the places I have written about. I'm so happy that I was able to connect with him from afar.

While I am sad I will not be able to see him again, I am happy that he's in a better place.  He wrote a very large memoir and I am really looking forward to reading it. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fruit Picking

There are many tours available that will take you on a fruit picking expedition.  They can be quite expensive, but of course the cost of the tour includes transportation, so you can sit back, relax, and enjoy.  I've always wanted to go on one of these tours.  You can go blueberry, apple or strawberry picking, to name a few.

Last month, some friends were telling me about local mikan (satsuma oranges) orchards where you can pick your own fruit.  Instead of going on a tour, I decided that we could make this trek on our own.  I found the directions online (although we noticed many different mikan orchards in Miura), and it was only a 25 minute car ride from our house.  For 650 yen (about $8) per person you can pick/eat as many mikans as you want.  The orchard provides you with clippers, a cute little plastic basket, and bags or boxes.  For about 350 yen ($5) per kilo, you can pick your own mikans to bring home!  This is a bonus because when you go strawberry picking, you cannot bring any fruit home with you.
This was a really fun and relatively inexpensive family outing.  It was a perfect day and a bit cool.  The weather didn't stop the Japanese from picnicking in the orchard.  That is what I love about Japan.  The Japanese always sit, eat and enjoying their surroundings.  We have so many simple lessons to learn from these wonderful people.
About 2000 yen.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Our First Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving marks the last, of our "first" holidays in Japan.  I know I'm sounding like a broken record, but time has just gone by so quickly since we came here.  Its hard to believe we're approaching our 1 year Anniversary in just three short weeks! 

I was mulling over what to do for Thanksgiving given I only have a small convection oven to work with.  I thought about getting an already prepared meal from base, cooking some turkey breasts, or getting together with friends to share Thanksgiving with.  Well, as it turns out, we were invited to our friends house for dinner.  I am going to be bringing some of the sides, a dessert, drinks, and our friends will be preparing both a turkey and ham and some of the other fixins!

I'm thoroughly grateful this holiday season.  While we will be missing our friends and family back home, I'm grateful for the new friendships we have formed, and most of all for all of the experiences our family continues to have. 

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it 
is like wrapping 
a present and not giving it 
--William Arthur Ward--

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rush Hour

Since last week, I've had to schlep the family to base during morning rush hour traffic.  Hopefully, our second car will be fixed soon, so I can send the boys on their way without me.  Our commute is generally 15 minutes depending on the timing of lights, the amount of cars on the road, and so on.  While it is a pretty typical commute, it got me thinking about how driving really is different here.

Here are some of my observations:

Mopeds & Motorcycles - are everywhere.  I know I've probably mentioned them before, but I cannot get used to how many are on the road.  They dart in and out of cars, drive between cars, and do not limit themselves to just one lane.  The other day I had one moped pass me on the right, and another moped pass me on the left...almost in unison. 

Yellow Lights - Usually a yellow light means that you slow down.  Here, it means you keep driving. Sometimes, even if the yellow light becomes red....you just run it.  

Changing Lanes -  You have to edge your way into the lane you want to change into.  While I love Japanese people, I've noticed that they have a mission on the road, and that's to not let you in even if you have your blinker on.  This isn't a bad thing, its just teaching us to be a little more assertive on the road.

Turn Lanes - I've never really edged out into a turn lane back home, like I have here.  Its really okay to block the intersection when you are waiting to turn into a lane.  Even if the light changes, and you are blocking the intersection, cars will make an effort to go around you.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mikoshi Parade

The CFAY Mikoshi.
Many commands participated in the Yokosuka Mikoshi parade last month.  Mikoshi are portable (and can be very heavy) Shinto Shrines that are mounted on a wooden frame and paraded typically to and from a shrine. In Yokosuka, the Mikoshi Parade doesn't start at a shrine, but in town, and ends on the base.  The parade is followed by a large friendship festival with a ton of food, music, and another opportunity to unite American and Japanese cultures together.

Dressed and ready to carry the Mikoshi.
Ladies help too.

A friend in front of a fancy Mikoshi.
 Here's a video of the Mikoshi Parade in Yokosuka:


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Yokosuka Sushi Rollers

The two teams....The Mummies vs. The Witches.
Roller derby is on the rise in Japan.  At this time, there are two teams on the Kanto Plain:  The Scary Blossoms out of Yokota Airforce Base and The Yokosuka Sushi Rollers.  In Okinawa, they currently have two teams.  I joined the Yokosuka Sushi Rollers this past summer.  A friend back in Bremerton had told me that her friend formed a derby team in Japan, and that I should check it out.  After months of running into people that were on the team, I finally caved in and ordered my "new skater" package.  I was quite nervous to try this new endeavor, but figured I'd skated in the 70's and 80's, so I knew I could at least stand up on skates.  While I may have had a taste of skating in my past, learning roller derby has been a whole different ballgame.  There are so many things to learn such as:  form, stopping, the correct way to fall, hits, speed, jumps, and of course.....knowing the rules helps.

Last month our team hosted skaters "Ref Handsome" and "Kat-atomic" from Aloha Ciy Rollers in Hawaii to do a two-day skating Boot camp.  The day after Boot Camp was over we had our first bout.  The Boot camp was very intense.  I've never skated so much in my life.  Handsome and Kat were great teachers, and taught us so much in such a short amount of time.  The skills we learned, and the bonding our team did during that weekend was a very memorable experience.  Also joining Boot Camp, and participating in the bout, were some skaters from The Scary Blossoms.  What a great bunch of ladies!  They fit right it, had great spirit, and kicked some booty.

After day 2 of Boot Camp!
The bout was a great learning experience.  Bouts are 1 hour in length.  The jams are 2 minutes long with 30 seconds in between each jam.  Luckily, we had an intermission featuring famed Japanese skater Hiroshi Koizumi and his skaters performing some dare-devil moves.   Although my team didn't win the bout, hopefully with more people joining derby, we'll be able to do more bouts in the near future.

It takes a village for a bout to happen!

Here's a link to videos of our first bout (type in Yokosuka Sushi Rollers in search):


For ladies interested in joining The Yokosuka Sushi Rollers:


For additional information on derby rules:


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Happy Halloween ハッピーハロウィン

The boys and their friends trick-o-treating.
This week we experienced our first Halloween in Japan. We weren't completely into the Halloween spirit this year, but did buy some pumpkins, went to a haunted house (or two), and wore costumes.  I normally love Halloween....not just the candy, but any opportunity to dress up and buy a new wig. I wasn't able to pick up a new wig this year, but I brought 4 with me when we moved.  Next year, I'll just have to splurge on 2.

There were Halloween decorations around my neighborhood, and in some stores. The Japanese have adopted some American holidays and customs. It's usually on a much smaller scale, although the local mall already has Christmas decorations on display.

Halloween display at mall.
Some kids in my neighborhood went trick-o-treating last weekend to their friends' homes, and I saw something organized at one of the area parks on Halloween.  I wanted to check out the happenings at the park but we were on our way to base.  The boys, along with hundreds of Japanese came onto base for trick-o-treating.  I've never seen so many cute costumes, candy and people out and about on Halloween.  It looked like everyone was enjoying themselves.  My kids had a great time with their friends and got a ton of candy...which is the most important thing of all!!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Helpful Websites For People Living or Traveling in Japan

This autumn is just flying by.  Hard to believe in just four days it will be Halloween and that there are already Christmas decorations in the stores......even out in town. 

Anyway, I've recently stumbled across some good websites for those living in, or traveling to Japan. You can never have too many resources.

www.mustlovejapan.com    This is a wonderful site where you can view things in Japan via video.  There are tons of different topics that this site covers.  Try clicking "like" on their Facebook site so that you can get regular updates on all the fun and exciting things to do in Japan.

www.japanbases.com   This site is obviously geared towards the military community, but has pretty good forums, local job information, etc.  I went onto this site before we moved here just to see what other people had to say about the questions I had.  Check it out.

http://www.hyperdia.com/en   I just found out about this website yesterday.  I can't believe we've been here for over 10 months and we haven't used it.  This site will help you navigate the train systems from point A to point B, give you the amount of yen you will need, what trains to catch, etc.  I can't wait to use it.  Others swear by this site!

We've had many fun things the past couple of weekends.  Look for my upcoming blogs about roller derby, the Mikoshi Parade, and of course....Halloween.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Relay For Life

This past weekend, the younger boys and I participated in
the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life.  This was our first 
time at such an event, but not the first time its been held in our area.  I'm grateful that my roller derby team signed up for this walk and that we were able to camp out and show our support for people who have been touched by cancer.  An amazing $65,000+ was raised!
Survivors lap.

One of the speakers was a Japanese woman who was a doctor and a cancer survivor.  She spoke on behalf of Japanese Relay For Life which debuted in Japan in 2006.  This was the first time I'd heard of the relay being in other countries.  When I looked into this further, I found out that Relay For Life is held in over 20 countries around the globe.  For more information on International Relay for Life check out this link:http://www.cancer.org/Involved/Participate/RelayForLife/international-relay-for-life-one-world-one-hope

The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it.  ~C.C. Scott

At around 9pm, the luminaria ceremony began.  This was very touching because the track was lined with bags (with candles) that had messages on them.  You could donate a luminaria in Honor, Support, or in Memory of a loved one.  They were very emotional to read especially since we have so many people we know that are survivors, currently battling the disease, or have lost their lives to cancer. 

A message for my uncle who is currently battling cancer.
My son and his friend walking around the luminaria.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


The dohyo or sumo ring.
Last month we attended our first Sumo tournament up at the Kokugikan in Tokyo.  Sumo is Japan's national sport and dates back some 1,500 years ago, with its origin being of a religious nature.  Sumo, along with dramas and dancing, were performed inside shrines as rituals to ask the gods for bountiful harvests.  Although the sport has made many transitions since its beginning, the Edo Period was credited for shaping the sport and how it is played today.

Sumo is played in a dohyo, or ring and  measures 18 square feet by 2 feet high.  The stage is built of clay, has a sand surface and the bouts are performed inside a 15 feet in diameter circle.  This is not much space to bout especially given the size of the wrestlers.  Basically, the first person to force the opponent outside the ring, or push them down inside the circle wins.  The bouts were rather suspenseful especially when the more advanced wrestlers were in the ring.  I found myself covering my eyes many times.  Most of the time the bouts were quick but we did witness a few wrestlers being thrown off the dohyo.  One wrestler even hit his head, and another one got a bloody nose.
Chiri-o-kiru.  Means sumo will respect fair play.
Sumo trivia:
  • There are 6 grand tournaments a year that are 15 days in length.
  • The average age of a sumo wrestler is 20-35.
  • Wrestlers live together in a place called a stable.
  • Each player has a ritual of throwing salt in the ring.
  • There are many foreign sumo wrestlers participating in the Japanese Sumo circuit.
  • The loincloth the wrestlers wear is called a mawashi.  It measures 10 yards in length/2 ft in width.  There are approximately 70 winning maneuvers a wrestler can use with the mawashi during a bout.
Here are some websites if you are interested in additional information on sumo:

Monday, October 3, 2011

Space Available

Happy to get onto this flight bound for Osan AFB in Korea.
I'm hoping to get back into blogging every week.  September was a busy month, and its only bound to get busier from here on out especially if I start working full-time.  I have so many topics I want to cover that I better get a move-on.

Today's blog is about Space Available flights (also called MAC or Space A).  One of the many perks we have living abroad is being able to take advantage of these military flights.  Each family member is entitled to 2 EML (morale leave) flights per year.  We can fly to such places as:  Korea, Hawaii, Alaska, Singapore, Guam, Okinawa, etc.  We're very fortunate to live within a couple hours of two bases that offer Space A.  The most important things you will need to travel are:  EML orders (I got them drawn up from Justin's command) or not if you're flying in the lowest category, your passport, military ID, patience and  some faith.

I like the price for the flight.
My friend asked me earlier in the year if I would be interested in taking a Space A flight to Korea.  Of course I said yes!  So, the week before last, we ventured up to Yokota Air Base and attempted to get onto our first Space A flight.  We weren't sure how it was going to go since the typhoon had knocked out power to the AFB air terminal.  We still had hope since the plane we wanted to go on was still scheduled to fly out that day.  Its very helpful that you can call the air terminal ahead of time to hear a recording of scheduled flights for the week.  Of course you need some flexibility because flights are subject to change. 

When taking these flights you can email or fax your orders ahead of time so that your name is in their system.  This is advantageous since anyone flying in a lower category (we flew in category IV) than us, had lower priority.  The reverse is also true.  Anyone flying in categories I-III had higher priority than us.  This did cause a bit of concern, but we still checked in upon arrival to the terminal, and tried to patiently wait until roll call.  If they call your name during roll call, then you made the flight.  Luckily, we were flying on a large airplane that had extra seats so we were able to make it to Korea.

The trick is to make it back to your original destination.  Fortunately, we were able to get onto the flight back to Japan.  This isn't always the case.  That's why you need to truly look at this as an adventure, give yourself extra time, and do your research.  There's always the possibility that you may have to pay for a ticket to fly on a commercial airplane if you cannot return via Space A.

While I certainly enjoyed my time in Korea, I cannot wait to take a Space A flight with my family! There are so many places for us to visit.....plus you can't beat the price!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Our First Visitors

Yeah, they made it to Japan!
We've been really busy with our out of the country house guests.  My mom and brother made the 10 hour plane ride from California to visit us for two weeks.  While we saw and did a lot, we didn't get a chance to show them everything on the bucket list.  Its just a perfect excuse for them to make the trek back here sometime in the future so we can show them more of this wonderful country.

First off, I'm so happy they came for two weeks because the jet lag was pretty bad for them the first week.  Many naps, and early evenings.  Luckily, we had a pretty good balance of down time and being on the go.  Here's some of what we did in a nutshell:

Linkin Park concert

Week One
  • Stayed in Tokyo (1 night @ New Sanno/ 1 night @ Hardy Barracks)
  • Emperor's Palace
  • My brother and I took my oldest son to "Linkin Park" concert in Shin-Yokohama.
  • Ferry to Sarushima Island
  • Tons of shopping, napping and eating
  • Toured the base
  • Went to Ikego and Zushi
  • A zillion trips to Lawson's (my brother loved the pancakes in a package).
At horse archery in Kamakura.
Week Two
  • Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse and World Porters
  • Kurihama Hana no Kuni (Flower World)
  • Toured USS Blue Ridge
  • Sumo Tournament in Tokyo
  • Horse Archery (Yabusame) in Kamakura
  • Tons of shopping, eating and not so many naps
  • Dinner Show up in Shinjuku
  • Sunday Brunch at Officers Club
  • Went to Back To School Nights 
On the bus to airport.  Sayonara!
We had a wonderful visit.  Arigato gozaimashita for coming to see us.  Our doors are open to anyone else who would like to visit us in Japan.

      Tuesday, September 6, 2011

      Music To My Ears

      Some of my favorite things about living in Japan are the various songs/melodies you hear.  I'm not talking about songs on the radio, or music videos, I'm talking about daily life in Japan.  Here are some of the major melodies we hear when we are out and about:

      • Train Stations- When you are the train station, there will be a melody played that signals that a train is coming or passing through the station.  Also, certain train lines use certain melodies. 
      •  Garbage Trucks-  When we first moved into our house, I could not for the life of me understand (literally) why almost every morning I would hear a certain song played around 9:00a.m.  This puzzled me for months until I saw the garbage truck driving down the street with the speaker blaring the tune.  Now, I welcome the warning especially if I'm late in putting out my garbage.
      • Its 1700 or 5:00p.m. In The Neighborhood- In just two minutes, I'll hear the daily 5:00p.m. neighborhood melody that signals the kids to come home from the park.  I was also told by a Japanese friend that this daily melody began as a way to test out the tsunami warning system.
      • At Work and School- There is music for the bells at both work and school on base.  This may also be true out in town.  One time I was at my husband's work at the end of the workday and just about did a leap out of my seat when I heard the afternoon bell/siren go off.  I thought there was an emergency. There wasn't, it was just time for everyone to go home for the day! 

      Here's a video I found on You Tube where you can listen to a melody at the train station.....not sure what's up with the piano solo at the end of the video.

      Saturday, September 3, 2011

      School Uniforms (Gakusei-Fuku /Seifuku)

      Local school's uniform.
      Although its not the beginning of school for kids on Japanese school year schedule, it is for my kids which prompts me to write about school uniforms.  I think uniforms were such a rarity where we lived in America, that I can only think of one private school in town where the kids wore uniforms.  I personally think they are a great idea, even though I have heard they are quite expensive in Japan.  Some schools include the uniform fee in their tuition.   At least it eliminates the worry about what to wear everyday. 

      It is a very common sight in Japan to see children in public, private, and International Schools wear uniforms.  Most children from preschool through High School and even some women's colleges require students to wear school uniforms.  While the sailor uniform used to be a very popular uniform for girls, most kids around where we live, or that I see on the train, wear a parochial-style uniform that includes the following:

      • Yochien (Kindergarten) girls- pinafore, shirt, socks, jacket and hat.
      • Yochien (Kindergarten) boys- shorts, shirt, suspenders, socks, jacket and hat.
      • Elementary/High School girls- pleated skirts, white shirt, tie, blue or white socks that go mid-way up the calf, loafers, and sweater or blazer with school crest.
      • Elementary/High School boys- dress pants, white shirt, tie, blazer with school crest.  
      Ready for yochien.
      The above are just some random observations I've made.   There may be variations of the uniforms depending on the school and season.  What I do find interesting is that I've seen High School girls hike, or roll up their skirts so they are quite short.  High School boys, when not in school,  may take off their tie and lower their pants.  Instead of judging these kids, I've come to realize its just a way of being individual in a world where all your peers dress the same. 

      Formal Friday uniform at International School.

      Tuesday, August 30, 2011

      Typhoons (Taifu)

      This is our second typhoon warning in the last two months. Typhoon season in Japan is typically between August and September.  Typhoons tend to hit areas in Kyushu, Shinkoko and Okinawa.  The effects of these storm systems can bring torrential rains and high winds.  Fortunately, a typhoon only lasts for approximately two days.

      Before summer, we were given a checklist on what to have on hand in the event of a typhoon.  I did look at the list and bought some things just in case the storm hit and we were unable to get supplies at our local store, or on base.  I was most concerned about making sure we had enough water and non-perishable food.  Luckily, we had the rest of the items on the list such as: extra batteries, candles, paper plates and disposable utensils, can opener, wipes, First Aid kit, charged cell phones, etc.  Just because the last typhoon changed direction, we are still unsure what Tropical Storm Talas will send our way.  Mother Nature has not been too kind to Japan this year, so hopefully we will make it through this storm unscathed.

      Here is additional information on emergency preparedness and tracking tropical storms:


      Wednesday, August 24, 2011

      The Hardest Climb Ever

      The endless switchbacks up the mountain.
      I had to give myself a number of days of recovery, plus get a better disposition before I could give an unbiased opinion about the Mt. Fuji climb.  When we signed up for the trek I honestly don't think we were aware of what we were getting ourselves into.  I think we needed to learn "the hard way" so that we would know what to differently next time (I'll be the fool who tries it again year).

      We are still smiling.  I think this was around 6th station.
        "A wise person climbs Mt. Fuji once, only a fool would climb it twice'. 
      Famous Japanese Saying

      There are a number of things I'll do differently to prepare for this climb.  While I do realize that if I reached the summit before getting turned around by our tour guide, this blog entry would have a completely different tone.  That's why I've decided to incorporate some things from my son and husband who did indeed reach the summit.  Here are some useful recommendations to consider:
      • Get enough rest the night before.  We got about 2 hours of sleep before we had to get on the tour bus at 2:00a.m.  Not a good start to such a vigorous day of climbing.
      • Consider going without a tour.  If you do not want all the time constraints they give you on a tour, then consider making the drive to the mountain yourself.  They have parking at the 5th station.
      • If you buy the walking stick, limit the number of times you get it stamped.  We wasted a good 1/2 hour (total) stopping at each hut to get the stamps.  While I like the memory, if I would've known in advance just how many we were going to get, I would've limited it to a small handful of stations.
      • Buy a can of oxygen.  Some of us suffered from a headache, coughing and fatigue from the altitude.  I think the extra puff of oxygen would possibly have helped us.  I was told by a friend to bring a can with us, but didn't think we'd need it.  Next time I'll know better.
      • Make sure to eat enough.  I think along with the change in altitude, not eating enough contributed to the massive headache my husband suffered on the climb.  We bought gel packs, energy bars, rice balls, etc.  
      • Take small sips of water.  I would suggest getting a CamelBak (one that fits 2 liters of water minimum) and taking a couple small sips when you are thirsty.  My husband and son both ran out of water on the climb.  
      • Go in July.  I'm wishing we would have gone in July instead of August.  I'm just partially joking because I have to wait another 11 months or so to attempt it again.  I should be more than ready by then. 
      The descent was very challenging and rocky.

      Our walking sticks.

      Tuesday, August 23, 2011

      How Quickly Time Passes

      Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, or a new country.
      - Anais Nin-

      Almost daily we're asked by someone how long we've been in Japan.  Its more of a conversation piece with Japanese and Americans, but it struck me the other day that we've already been here for over 8 months.  Hard to believe that almost one year ago we received an email asking Justin to interview for the position he has today.  It just makes me realize how quickly time passes and all that we've experienced since we've gotten here.

      While we do love this country, this move was a hard transition.  The workload and demands for the job have increased, the kids' (except for the High Schooler) school work was difficult and never ending, learning the ins and outs of "the base" and being thrown into a new culture where we spoke very few words at the beginning was intimidating.  And to top it off, we happened to be living in Japan when they experienced the worst natural disaster ever.

      But overall I think we've taken all the changes in stride and embraced our new home.  Being in this culture where language, driving, the people and scenery are much different than home gives us endless subjects to talk about. 

      I've been so happy to hear good reviews about this blog from friends and family.  Its been extremely rewarding to be able to share our dream of being abroad with people back home.  I'm just so happy we're still linked, even though we are worlds away.

      Friday, August 19, 2011

      Bon Festival


      We just experienced our very first Bon (also called Obon) festival last week.  Usually held around the middle of August, this is the largest summer festival in Japan that continues for three days.  The Bon festival is centered around a  Buddhist custom of paying homage to one's ancestors.  Many people return to the home towns of their ancestors and clean off their graves.  Buddists believe that once the graves are clean, then the ancestors spirit will returns to an alter which is in the home.  This is a busy time for Japanese, and a tradition that has been going on for centuries.  

      Many people dancing around the stage.
      The Bon festival we attended was just one evening full of food, games, dancing and of course drinking.  People wore traditional summer yukata or kimono and danced in a circle around the stage. Bon-Odori is a type of folk dancing that is performed during Bon. 

      I had the opportunity to go to three days of Bon-Odori lessons last week before the festival, but I was working and missed out.  Next year, I will be sure to learn the dances so that I can participate in this event.  One of my kids even got in the circle and started to follow along with one of the dances.  Again, there are so many chances for us to be involved in the culture here.  No matter what season, there's always a reason to celebrate.

      Dancing around in a circle in traditional costume.

      Thursday, August 4, 2011

      The Bucket Hat

      I love my bucket hat.
      The Bucket Hat is a very popular item in Japan  in summertime, and anytime the sun is shining.  Although they are available in America, I've never seen them as widely used back home as they are here.

      I've been trying to do research about their popularity, but am not having much luck.  This leads me to come up with my own conclusions.  Here they are:

      • They are lightweight, and made of cotton.  Your head will stay cool.
      • They block your face and neck from the sun.  This is very important to Japanese who do not like to burn.
      • They are compact and easy to throw in a bag or purse when not in use.
      • They are easy to wash.
      • They can be unisex.
      • You can get them with small or large brims.
      • They are not bulky.
      • They are relatively inexpensive.  I bought mine for about 1,200 yen (just under $14.00 USD).
      • Most of all they are a fashion statement.  Although I've heard them called "ugly", I've grown accustomed to seeing them on just about everyone, and just about everywhere.   
      I don't usually jump on a trend....or am late in doing so, but I think everyone should own one!

      Sunday, July 31, 2011

      Preparing to Climb Mt. Fuji (Fuji-san)

      The summit of Mt. Fuji is 12,389 ft. (3,776.24 m).

      A few of us will be attempting to climb Mt. Fuji or Fuji-San at the end of August.   We will be joining the ranks of approximately 300,000 people yearly who climb the mountain.  That's a lot of people!  Most people are advised to only climb during the months of July and August when the weather on the mountain is milder than the rest of the year.

      In order to sign up for a tour you have to attend a safety briefing on the climb which took all of 45 minutes.  We were given good information and now we have a better idea of what to plan for.  All I know is that we'd better get a good night's sleep before the climb because the tour leaves at 2am.  The ascend starts at station 5 around 5:30am and takes most people 6 hours.  The descend takes (2 1/2-3 hours).  That makes for a long day!

      There are both day and overnight trips to Fuji-san.  We are going with a Boy Scout troop so we will be going during the daytime.  I really want to see the path in daylight versus wearing a headlamp during the night especially since the trails are very treacherous and covered with dirt and loose lava stone. It is very common for Japanese to climb in the night so that they arrive to the summit by sunrise.  This is called goreikou or spiritual light

      Aside from being in decent physical shape, taking the climb nice and easy, having the proper (no cotton) climbing clothes, gear and 2 liters of water, I learned that it is essential to have extra yen.  This is crucial especially if you want to use the toilet... which costs 200 yen.  You'll also want extra yen if you want to purchase a hiking stick for 1,200 and have it branded at each station ~4,000 (total).  

      I'll be blogging the results of the climb next month!  Wish us luck!  Gambatte!

      Sunday, July 24, 2011

      V is for Victory

      Winston Churchill giving the sign.
      I've hopped on the bandwagon for giving the V is for victory, or peace sign when having my picture taken.  What started out as being silly has actually become habit forming.  I had a friend back in America ask me what's with the "V" sign from people in Asia.  I wasn't entirely sure so I asked a couple Japanese friends to tell me what they knew about it, or if they did it when taking pictures.

      Here's what I learned:

      Friend #1:  Well, I don't know the origin..I was taught to do it since I was baby.  High school girls put a lot of effort to look good in photos. They look up a little bit to make eyes look bigger, and put Vs on cheeks to make faces look smaller.  Silly ne!

      Friend #2:  I think it has to do with after the war.  Winston Churchill made the V, or victory sign, so everyone started doing it.  It was also popular with Japanese Hippies (I asked.........Japan had hippies?)  Also, in the early 1970's, Junji Inoue, a Japanese TV personality was in a Konica camera commercial doing the peace sign.  Its been very popular in Japan, but I never make the sign in photos. 

      Regardless of the origin, I think that its part of the culture here.  You see the sign in many photos taken in Japan, and it other parts of Asia.  I think its both fun and funny.  See, even cartoon characters do it!