Monday, January 31, 2011

Home Sweet Japanese Home

We also hang out our clothes like everyone else.
An aerial view of the living room/dining room.

I love my Japanese refrigerator
Well, we moved into our house out in town last week.  It took the movers about 6 hours to unload/unpack our belongings.  We were surprised at how we did a good job of gauging how much to bring.  Everything pretty much has a place which is good.  Now I can justify why I need to go shopping since we need a few things (furniture, garbage cans, etc).

Our neighborhood is located about 3 miles from the base (about 10 minutes via car, 20 minutes via bicycle), in a really nice, newer neighborhood on the hillside.  When we say where we live, most people aren't familiar with the neighborhood, so we use the closest train station as a marker.  Speaking of the train, there's a tunnel for the trains underneath this development.  The first day I was at the house alone, I was startled by the train.  I/we don't even notice anymore.  We are desensitized from the train noises because we used to live next to the train track in North Seattle for 9 years.  The trains literally shook our place every time they went by.  I think that's why the boys were good sleepers when they were young.  The train would just lull them to sleep.

Our family is one of handful of Americans (American-Jin) living in the neighborhood.  We met a few of our neighbors last week when we brought them gifts.  Gift giving is a tradition here in Japan, so I was prepared and bought some items from home before we left.  All the neighbors were quite welcoming, and some were apologetic for not speaking more/better English.  The irony is that I/we feel the same not speaking their language better.  The neighbor directly across from us works on the Naval base and speaks pretty good English.  One of his dogs is named Marilyn Monroe!

Overall, I'm glad we chose to move out in town.  It will give us more of an opportunity to experience Japanese culture daily.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bikes Galore

Bicycle Parking

Traditional Japanese bike

I was warned before coming to Japan, that everyone rides bicycles.  I took that information with a grain of salt until we actually made it here and saw for myself.  Its unbelievable.....bikes are everywhere.  They litter the shipyard bike racks and are parked all along the streets in town.  If there isn't an actual "bike rack" then people just park their bike and go about their business.  They even have bicycle parking lots!

Since we arrived we bought all new bikes.  Three of us have Japanese bicycles, one has a mountain bike and one has a BMX-type bike that we bought online from the states.  We wanted to start with a clean slate, since all of the bikes we had back home were old (2 mountain bikes were circa 1993). 

Most people who bicycle here have a front and sometimes a back basket.  This is really convenient because if you are commuting around town, like we are, then you need a place to carry your groceries.  Out in town we've found a few places that carry a pretty decent selection of bike parts, baskets, kick stands, etc for a reasonable price.  I can't wait to get a back basket and rack for my own bike.  This will we better for my back because two days in a row this week, I had a very full front basket, and a full load in my backpack.

Okay, riding around town on the bicycle has been a bit unnerving.  I love having the freedom the bikes have given us, buts its rarely been relaxing.  We have to be on full alert because people, and other bicycles are everywhere.  I'm grateful for the bell on my bike and use it frequently.  This works most of the time, except when people are walking with their IPOD's in their ears and cannot hear me/us coming. 

We have been loosely looking for a car.  Even when we purchase a car, we are still planning on biking around town.  Its not only been good exercise, its been an adventure every time.  Today, the younger boys and I saw a woman with a baby on her back riding her bike.  Her two younger children following on their bikes.  Now that's something you wouldn't see back home.

Monday, January 10, 2011

To The Left, To The Left

Most people back in their cars in Japan.
Japanese stop sign.

Beginner driver sticker.  We need to have 2 of these on our car for the first year.

As previously noted in one of my other posts,  the Japanese drive on the left side of the road.  This is quite different coming from a country where we drive on the right side of the road.  Luckily, training is provided so that we can be successful drivers here in Japan.  The Japanese believe that anyone who has their drivers license is a professional driver. 

Last week, Justin and I attended a half-day drivers safety course.  We received a booklet early in the week that explained road signs, rules of the road, etc.  There was a lot of interesting information, but it was also overwhelming.  There are/can be many repercussions if you get a ticket, into an accident, or God forbid, injure a Japanese National.  What we learned was enough to scare us, and make sure that we're always thinking safety first when on the road (even on a bicycle) here in Japan.  At the end of our training we had to take a 50 question written exam.  70% of the test was knowing the different Japanese road signs.  I thought the exam was a bit tricky especially since it was multiple choice.  The minimum passing score was 80%. When all the tests were graded, the instructor called out assigned numbers.  If your number was called, then you didn't pass.  Luckily, Justin and I passed and were able to sign up for the practical driving test.

I took the practical driving test today and it went fine.  There were 2 other people in the backseat waiting to take their test.  It felt like drivers training all over again.  On the drivers test you have to pass with a minimum of 80%...I got 81%.  Not sure what I did wrong, but  I am glad that its over and done with.  Justin takes his test on Friday, and I have no doubt in my mind that he'll do an excellent job.

Sweets, Sweets, Sweets

Treats from a French pastry shop in Yokosuka
If you know our family, then you know we all love sweets.  Believe it or not, one of the concerns I had about moving to Japan was how on earth were we going to get our sugar fix.  I figured that most Japanese people are petite and they must never eat sweets.   Boy was I wrong.  Japanese love treats. 

Pastry shops and sweet shops are everywhere in Yokosuka.  We've found a couple different places that we enjoy going to.  The first is in the basement of More's City (for those of you raised in Seattle, this reminds me of the basement of the old Frederick and Nelson's).  You grab a tray and tongs (never your hand like Mercer tried to do)  and start choosing from the fresh pastries, breads, rolls, etc.  There's such an interesting variety and most everything we've gotten (except the corn-topped pastry) is worth getting a second time.  We've had a couple pastries with bean paste because we thought it was reminiscent of chocolate.  They were okay, just tasted different on the palate.  The other pastry shop we like is Vie de France on Blue Street.  They had delicious tasting strawberry and chocolate muffins, twist donuts that weren't greasy and pastries filled with Nutella.  I'm biased because I like the French pastry shop the best.  They know how to put more sugar into their goodies.

While we seem to gravitate towards food that we recognize, there have been times when we've gotten something that looked good on the menu but had a unique taste once it was in front of us.  For instance, Justin ordered a ice cream sundae at Denny's (they have them here, but the menu is not representative whatsoever of the ones in the U.S.) that had tapioca balls, green tea ice cream and beans in it.  Interesting combination.  Not so sure we'll ever order that one again, but at least we can say we tried it!