Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sunday Recap

Here we are: another Sunday in Iwakuni! Thankfully, this will be our last day in the TLF. We got the keys to our new place on Friday and walked into a beautiful new house with no washer, dryer, refrigerator, dishwasher, convection oven, or master bedroom heater.

On Friday afternoon, we had our express shipment delivered and the delivery men were so surprisingly polite and gracious. They took their shoes off before stepping inside every time, unwrapped everything, and even put things away in appropriate places, like the silverware in the drawer and the pots and pans in the cupboard. When everything was done, I tried to tell them how much I appreciated their hard work and the manager asked me to sign a paper saying that nothing was scuffed or damaged during the move. I jokingly said, "Well, there are a few pieces of dust, but that doesn't bother me. Ha, ha." He took my comment very seriously and said something sternly in Japanese to his crew. At that moment, they all got down on all fours and started picking up pieces of lint by hand. I was totally shocked and told the manager everything was fine and that I was very happy with their work, but he insisted that the crew kept picking up dust by hand, even though they had just unpacked the broom in my shipment. So, another lesson in cultural sensitivity: don't make jokes about incompetence.

On Saturday, Joe got to leave work for a few hours (yes, he works on weekends too) to help me rent a manual transmission truck so we could take all of our luggage to the new place. The MINI is fun and perfect for driving on tiny roads, but does not excel in carrying luggage. So, we took our things over and there were crews in the house installing the appliances we bargained for in our rental contract. We now have a heater/dehumidifier/AC unit for our downstairs area (living room, kitchen, dining room), our guest bedroom/office, and the master bedroom. It was very cold when we first arrived since the weather has been hovering around 45 degrees.

After we unpacked, Joe needed lunch before going to work, so I convinced him to go to Sushi 105. It's around the corner from where we live, so it wasn't too big of a deal. The cool part was that each dish you order at Sushi 105 is only 105 yen, which is about $1.30 in US dollars. I tried seaweed soup, shrimp sushi, fried tuna sushi, crab, and we shared a few others. I joked with Joe that Japanese people must be lazier than Americans, because at least we leave our seats to get a second helping at buffets. Here, the food literally comes to you.
Sushi chef using a blow torch to cook shrimp.
We needed to go shopping for rugs and curtains for the new place and headed to YouMe Town, a shopping mall, here in Iwakuni. Shopping in Japan is amazing because they use a lot of English letters on their merchandise but only 0-10% makes any sense at all. I do a lot of giggling at English descriptions. For example, we went through the kitchen department and I remembered that our stovetop only works with magnetized pots and pans. I could go on about how upsetting this is, but I won't. Anyway, we need to buy new ones to use here and this red pan caught my eye. The description on the bottom of the pan is even better:
Weird! It did make me wonderful and rich feelings!
I was in fits already from the funny descriptions on everything in the kitchen department when we passed by the baby department. These amazing pacifiers were on the end cap of the aisle:
At least this could prevent kidnappings.

I can't decide which one is scarier.
So after our laughs in the mall, we headed over to a store called "Wants" where they sell wants and needs. In our case, we needed to buy toilet paper for our  new house. We ended up going with the store brand because this one didn't make me feel completely comfortable:
Please don't touch me like that.
At night, we went out with the incumbent communications officer and his wife. He had just returned from Korea a few hours before, so he built up an appetite for tasty Indian food. We went to Ganesh in downtown Iwakuni and the place definitely lived up to its hype!  We had a mixed plate of tandoori chicken, lamb and spinach curry, shrimp curry, garlic naan, coconut naan, a side salad, and a mango lassi to drink. It was a ton of food, and they were nice enough to pack the leftovers for us. I can see this being a regular stop! Thanks for taking us, Jimmy and Jesse!

Today I'll spend getting our paperwork in order and getting ready to leave the TLF for good. Tomorrow will be busy since we'll be getting our government loaner furniture delivered. We get to borrow it until our household goods (HHG) shipment is delivered. Hopefully it isn't too bad!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Taking a walk

While living in a tiny, dark hotel room, it's pretty important to get out for sunlight, fresh air, exercise, ...and for the cleaning lady to change towels. I went on a walk for just such reasons and thought I'd share some pictures.

Overcast weather without a lot of wind in the 60s is perfect weather for me. Forget bathing suits or blinding sun, I just need a sweatshirt to be comfortable. So on this perfect day, I went for a walk along the seawall that surrounds our base. Here are some pictures from my mini-adventure:

This is the view a little ways from the seawall ladder by our hotel (TLF).

We have a few chemical and paper product factories close by, as well as a crematorium, but I don't know where that is.

I like the rugged mountain view. In real life, the peaks are veiled by clouds. It's very beautiful.

The Friendship Bridge

If this isn't a nice reward for walking, I don't know what is! I love this view!

Here's a little peak of the seawall.

If you fall over the seawall, you'll hit rocks instead of water.

The seawall separates Penny Lake from the sea.

Watching the clouds roll in.
I just wanted to share a quick view of what my funemployed days are like. It's stressful going off base because most Japanese people in Iwakuni speak no English at all. I'm trying to learn quick phrases to make life less awkward and dependant on charades or iPhone translation apps, but until I get a solid foundation, I'm getting to know the base.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sunday Recap!

Wow, time is flying here in Iwakuni. We've already been here for three weeks, made it through a huge national crisis, and Joe's been deployed once! Before more time slips away unnoticed, I decided to start reviewing some of the places I've been, for my own memory and for potential visitors to the area.

Coco's Curry: Our new friends have been raving about the Japanese curry at Coco's and I decided I needed to give it a try. Jesse (another Marine wife) and I went while our husbands were in Korea and I had a really great salad with shredded lettuce, shredded carrots, shredded cabbage, and a tasty ginger/soy sauce dressing that had the consistency of Italian dressing. After salad, I had a traditional Japanese curry. The chef fills half the plate with white rice, places some kind of protein in the middle (I had coconut-fried chicken), and then covers the protein and other side of the plate with a curry that sort of resembles gravy in color and consistency. This meal was really delicious comfort food and very close to base. It's visible from the Iwakuni train station. I definitely need to take Joe!

Ramen: Can't remember the actual name. I went out one afternoon with a new friend I met while doing laundry and we found a really tasty ramen joint. This place didn't have an English menu for easy translating and pointing, so I relied on my friend Miho to order for me. Her favorite is pork and leek ramen, so I decided to give that a try too. It was really good! I wouldn't know how to order it again on my own, but it definitely hit the ball out of the park. The ramen was served in a giant bowl with a lot of broth and thinly sliced pork medallions decorating the outer rim. Leeks and other veggies were on top of the hot broth and noodles. Normally I dread eating noodles in public because they are so awkward to handle, but in Japan it isn't rude to slurp or make noises while eating noodles. This will take some time to get used to for me, but Joe has already jumped in with enthusiasm.

Stance Bar: Last night we went out to celebrate one of Joe's co-workers birthdays at a whiskey bar in town called Stance. It has a gentlemen's club atmosphere with dark wood walls, a bar taking up half of the narrow establishment, and hulking pieces of wooden furniture taking up the remainder of the space. Joe tried a few whiskeys, but I stuck with a Guinness. The guys were also smoking cigars in this place and I will probably leave Joe to fend for himself next time, since it's more of a guy's place.

O-Club: This is just the Officer's Club on base. It's easy to find, easy to walk to, and everyone there speaks English. We went to the O-Club the second Friday we were in Iwakuni and had a chance to meet a lot of great people from base. Lots of Marines go after work and wear their flight suits or camis (camouflauge uniform), so it's a unique experience.

JD's Grille: This is kind of the Applebees of our base. I've tried a Greek salad (served with stuffed grape leaves!), Yakisoba, and Fajita Salad. The Yakisoba was probably the best meal. The Fajita Salad with "grilled steak" was the worst. They use iceberg lettuce, canned vegetables, and the meat was fatty and cold. I feel bad because most of the waitstaff is Japanese and they probably have no idea what the food they are serving should look like. Fajita Salad is probably just as strange to them as egg ramen is to me.

Mister Donut: Really fun donut shop outside the Iwakuni train station. I went here to read one day and found that it was a lot like a Dunkin' Donuts back in the states. There are a lot of friendly older people visiting with each other, and it's just a very relaxed, casual place. They do serve coffee in tiny cups on saucers with coffee spoons, which I thought was fancy. I had a chocolate donut that was pretty dry and boring.

Sato's: This place is only known about by word of mouth. Joe and I had been asking around for good places to get lunch so that we wouldn't have to eat on base for every meal. Everyone kept coming up with the same answer: Sato's! and telling us that we needed to order a BLT. BLTs are one of my favorite food groups, so we went there the next day (Saturday around noon) and it was closed. Not to be discouraged, we went back the next day and it was open. We sat down in this tiny place and an old couple lit their huge stove and put huge slabs of bacon on to fry. It smelled amazing. The tomato was not remarkable, and the bread was just regular American white bread. Together, it was a delicious sandwich that I'll have to go back for sometime. We also had Cokes served in small glass bottles. I'm not sure it lived up to it's hype, but it was a good stop.

Sushi-go-round: This place was great! In the US, I wouldn't normally go out for sushi for dinner because the bill can go out of my comfort zone after trying just a few types of sushi. This place literally has a conveyor belt going around the restaurant, and customers just pull whatever they want off the belt. A friend recommended pressing the buzzer and ordering sushi directly from the sushi chefs because there is really no way to tell how long the food has been orbiting. This was mildly discomforting but definitely a good thing to keep in mind. Each kind of sushi is on a different colored plate and the color of the plate lets you know how much the sushi costs. You simply stack your tiny plates in front of you as you eat and the waiter adds up your total based on numbers and colors of your uncleared plates. Joe and I both left very satisfied for under $20. Very efficient!

Crossroads Food Court: This on-base food court has a Subway, Gyros stand, Burger King, KFC, Pizza Hut Express, Soba Express (Japanese food), Taco Bell, Baskin Robins, and a coffee shop. It's across the street from where we are living right now and I'm already wishing there was a healthy alternative.

Wow! There were already more places that we've visited than I thought about at first. I'll try to keep updating regularly to remember all these interesting visits.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Wherein I share my hidden secret:

I have a not-so-secret addiction to magazines. Back in the states, I used to love going to Borders, picking up every magazine that intrigued me, and sitting down in their comfy chairs in the cafe area. I know behavior like this is probably what led to Borders closing so many of their retail outlets, so maybe they should take away the comfortable reading nooks? Either way, it doesn't concern me anymore. Being in Japan, I don't have access to any chain bookstores willing to let me loaf an evening away with coffee and a huge stack of glossy magazines.

I recently discovered Amazon's magazine subscription function and realized this is how magazines should be purchased! The prices are ridiculously low, as in $0.25 per issue during some promotions. The drawback is that to take advantage of the promotional pricing, you need to agree to an auto-renewal after a year at Amazon's lowest price - which could skyrocket. Needless to say, I'll be keeping an eye on my subscription deadlines and cancelling them to get another great deal next year.

The other great function is perfect for a military spouse like me, or anyone who will be moving frequently: you can manage all your contact information through the Amazon page instead of contacting each magazine publisher individually.

I found a few magazines that I either found interesting, or couldn't resist due to the low price (Redbook!?):

Wired ($10/year): This is my new favorite magazine! I used to get my dose of nerd culture from Popular Mechanics, but this magazine has a sense of humor, appeals to a younger demographic, and features editorials about ideas rather than products. What really won me over was reading a hair dryer review that was written by a woman and described every characteristic in detail, without any childish fonts or pink background. There wasn't even a woman provocatively posed with long, sexy hair to complement the article! Wow, Wired: you get me!

Popular Mechanics ($7/year): It's like reading science fiction! I'm not an engineer or an inventor, but I love to see and imagine how far the human brain can extend itself. I think Popular Mechanics is more fun than Popular Science, and it's really interesting to look back at issues from the years past to see how starry-eyed people were over seemingly simple inventions or processes. There is always a place in my heart for a flying car.

Yes, Redbook ($3/year): I think this is more for older women with kids, but it is fun to see how they do practical outfits inspired by glamorous pieces. They also feature beauty products that cost less than a million dollars per ounce, so it's a bit more accessible.

O, The Oprah Magazine ($13/year): I flip through this when I'm in any waiting room. I appreciate that the articles are engaging, and often span more than a few pages. Oprah's star power brings in really great experts. I can't stand Dr. Phil, but I love Suze Orman's advice. I like that this is a magazine aimed at women, but doesn't focus on looking sexy non-stop. The magazine treats women as people who can and are making huge progress in the world. What a breakthrough.

Allure ($7/year): After my birthday in January, I became an official mid-20-something. Whoa! I feel like I need to start polishing my look and taking care of myself as I get older so that I can stay fresh and relevant. Allure is definitely a fun magazine but hopefully will also be motivation to act more adult and treat myself with care.

ReadyMade ($6.99/year): ReadyMade used to really blow my mind, but something went awry a few years ago that made each issue feel like it wasn't complete. The projects featured in the magazine require tools like bandsaws and large-scale printers. I find them interesting but completely inaccessible. I feel like the magazine is aimed at creative 20-somethings with a sense of playfulness, but most projects require lots of outdoor space, a garage with the latest equipment, my dad's handy-man knowledge, and the luxury of not having a renter's contract. I salivate over the thought of having my own house to trick out some day, so I will just snip out inspiration pictures until I get there. The magazine only comes every other month, so there are enough downsides that I teetered over renewing, but for now, the photography and sometimes-fantastic parts make up for them.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

2011 Earthquake/Tsunami/Fire/Nuclear Reactor Safety Scare in Japan

I've been absolutely sick about the disaster to the north of us here in Japan. Though we are on the opposite side of the island, this literally struck close to home. Here's a little graphic I doctored to show where we are in relation to the coast that was hit (the red line):

The purple circle represents our location.
To add to the stress of the events, Joe had just left for a three-week exercise in Korea hours before I heard about the earthquake and tsunami. Joe's updated me to let me know he's safe, but the exercise may not go as planned because the sizeable resources could be diverted to humanitarian assistance in Japan.

I think this would be a good way to help, and it wouldn't hurt that I might get Joe back home again a little sooner than expected. Hopefully they get the practice they need before they come home.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Well, we've been in Japan for just short of two weeks! I'm exhilarated to finally be here and have been busy getting situated. Here's an abbreviated checklist of what we've accomplished:

1. Cell phones: Joe and I bought iPhone 4s on the first day we got here. I think most people who know me could have predicted that I'm obsessed. I've found a lot of really helpful apps for free or low cost, such as...
  • Textfree with Voice: WOW! It was so easy to set up. I can text and receive text messages from the USA for free (as the name implies) and make calls from my phone for a pretty low cost. I paid $9.99 for 500 minutes. I feel like these will last me a while as a supplement to free Skype chatting. Along with all these features, the app also gives you an American phone number, so I can receive phone calls too.
  • Google Latitude: My mom and sister invited me to start using this app. It is completely gratuitous stalking software but I had fun following my sister while she drove across the country from Detroit to Los Angeles for a new job. I also found my good friend Gloria in Cambodia. Ha!
  • World Nomads Japanese: This app falls short on volume of information but the quality is amazing. It shows a phrase or word in English and when you tap on it, it appears in English, phonetic Japanese, and Kanji (Japanese characters). The best part is that a real person, rather than a robotic voice, reads the word or phrase. I've been using this app like flash cards to learn important greetings in Japanese.
  • Hipstamatic: This app uses the iPhone 4 camera and adds filters to each image to give it vintage flair. I usually start feeling too touristy when I have my camera out, but this makes each picture a bit more fun. This wasn't a free app, but under $5 and totally worth the cost!
  • Sirius Internet Radio: This has been nothing short of a life saver. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but it's how I feel. I'm having a hard time surviving without my home media set-up, but now I can listen to my favorite indie rock, classic rock, pop, and news stations through my phone. Consider my mind blown. I will not mind spending money on Sirius as it is a luxury necessary for my sanity.
2. Lodging: We're staying in the temporary lodging facility (TLF) and it is pretty tight. Not in a slang way, but it is actually a pretty small place to live. It's basically a hotel room with a tiny kitchen. It's been recently renovated with some Japanese accents, dark wood furniture, and a huge TV mounted on the wall. We've been winding down at night watching Mad Men seasons 1-3 and are eagerly awaiting season 4 on DVD. As for the kitchen, during our "Welcome Aboard" brief, the personal finance specialist sang the praises of military coupons being valid for 6 months after expiration, so I picked up a bag of coupons and stocked our tiny little kitchen with oatmeal, turkey burgers, and some fresh veggies. Interesting to note: milk is ridiculously expensive even at the commissary here, and they only sell frozen chicken.

3. Actual Housing: We found a place in town pretty quickly! I'm very excited about it. We'll be the first tenants, as they are still building the townhomes right now. We chose one with a spiral staircase, a funky dark wood accent wall in the living room, dark wood floors throughout, and three bedrooms. It's close to the base, but also an easy walk to Japanese stores and the train station. We made room in our contract for the option to have a dog, so hopefully one wanders into our lives in about two months.

4. First Trip: Joe and I took a short trip with the relocation specialist and a group of about eight other people to Otake. The main purpose of the trip was to learn the bare minimum for getting tickets and learning the customs for riding three different kinds of public transportation. We ended up in a shopping area and found lots of different foods, clothing shops, and some electronics stores.

5. Meeting People: I was worried about being shy in a new country, but our sponsors have been great! They've showed us around town, introduced us to other Marine couples, and basically been our lifeline since arriving. We even went to the Sargeant Major's farewell party at Joe's boss' house. Everyone I've met has been really nice so far.

6. New Food: I love trying new food. We haven't been out much since the language barrier is so strong, but we've had Japanese curry (had no idea there was such a thing) with fried lotus root (!), Japanese-Italian fusion cuisine, and sushi at the sushi-go-round. I love sushi and really need to work on my language skills so I can go more often!

7. New Challenges: So we're here! Of course, that's not the end of it and we don't get to sit back and relax because we made it here. Joe will be leaving for a three-week exercise in Korea tomorrow and I've made plans to go to the Philippines to visit one of my best friends after Joe gets back!

If there's anything you'd like for me to clarify, just send me an email @