Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An Island Visitor!

I'm so excited to have my friend Kara here in Iwakuni! I got to see her when I went to Okinawa and told that story in this post. She made it here on a military flight the day of Joe's wet down celebration and we put her to work helping us prepare. ;) A "wet down" is a promotion party in the military where you celebrate your promotion with people of the same rank. It's customary to spend your first month's pay raise on booze to get the party going. This meant we had a healthy chunk of change to spend!

Joe is a beer fanatic and wanted to have his favorite microbrews available. Luckily, our Marine Exchange recently partnered with the comparatively luxe Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) to get exciting beers like Blue Moon, Fat Tire, Rogue and more for the past few weeks. Between the exchange and Joe's work adventures taking him to Hawaii, Guam, Australia, and Fukuoka, we had acquired 31 different beers! We had a great time and Eddie even joined the festivities. I think every Marine liked hanging out with the tiny little dog. 

Through some stroke of bad luck, Joe had a flight the morning after his party. I groggily drove him the the Shinkansen (bullet train) station so he could get to the airport on time. Kara and I were left to our own devices to find ways to preserve the leftover beer. This is what we came up with: 

There was beer fully stocked in the fridge too! We poured ice on top of our bathtub beer, put the handy Japanese bath cover over it, and now we're calling it our cooler. Thank goodness for Kara's ingenuity!

We hung out at the Kintai Bridge, explored the town of Yanai, and had lunch at the Chicken Shack for the first time. Iwakuni is a tiny little town, but we're heading to Hiroshima tomorrow to get a feel for the big city. It's so fun to share my new home with an old friend!


Last weekend was incredible! I was a bit disappointed at first by the fact that our Marine Corps Birthday Ball would be on a Wednesday night, but then discovered that the Marines would have Thursday to Sunday off work! We made the most of the time off by taking a trip to Fukuoka the morning after the ball. 

First, Happy Birthday Marine Corps! Being a family member of the Marine Corps has given me so many challenges, and with that, so many opportunities to find out the kind of person I am and can be. Defending freedom comes with sacrifice, and I am proud to make sacrifices now to protect the American way of life for the future. I'm usually not happy about it, but I try not to complain because I can't think of a better reason to endure sacrifice.

The other great part of being a Marine wife is that we are treated like princesses for one day a year! I love this picture that my friend Emily took at the ball: 

Finagling a formal look in the countryside of Japan wasn't easy! The base exchange took measurements and custom ordered dresses from China, I bought over-priced costume jewelry at a Japanese department store (YouMe Town), my shoes came from Zappos.com (free shipping and returns), and I had to wait in line at 9am to make a hair appointment since there are only a few hair stylists on base. Oy! This experience in Iwakuni will make me never take the abundance in America for granted again.

We partied all night long with our friends and I got to sit between a female war vet (Hi, Theresa!) and a Ukrainian stripper (Hi, Sasha!) for dinner. Never a dull moment.

After the party, we landed back at our house and then got up early - miraculously without a hangover (thanks, vodka!) - kissed Eddie goodbye, and walked to the nearest train station. My hair was still fun and curly from the ball, so I really just had to roll out of bed and put it in a ponytail! I wish my hair was curly all the time!

Super curly side ponytail!

My favorite view!
Mountain islands behind me
We took the local train (rather than the bullet train) to Fukuoka to save a hundred dollars or so, but also discovered that we could enjoy the amazing view while riding along the coastline. It was very relaxing to sit on the heated seats and to read our Kindles with a nice view. 

I would definitely recommend getting a Kindle for travelers who like to read. It was so easy to pack the two of them in my purse and pull them out from time to time on public transportation. Joe is reading the Game of Thrones books and I'm reading The Hunger Games books, so it's nice to not lug around lengthy paperbacks or have to wait to buy the next book in your trilogy. 

Once we arrived, we stepped out of Hakata Station and I was in complete amazement! The most exciting thing was seeing our hotel right down the street from a Starbucks! There are a few Starbucks about an hour away in Hiroshima, but I've only been there a few times. Anyway, I was bracing myself for the impact of caffeine on my system and VERY excited about it. We stopped for a quick picture at Hakata Station before making our way to Sunlife Hotel.

I really liked this sculptural fountain with granite and grafitti artwork
We went to Hawks Town Mall (a mall named after the city's baseball team) to look around and then to The Hard Rock Cafe! I haven't had such good food since I was in America, so this was a big deal. Normally, the HRC is not exciting to me (except when one opened in Detroit) and I've always avoided their kitschy goodness in favor of local flavors. After too much time bracing ourselves to eat on base and lowering our expectations by joking, "Hopefully today there won't be much sawdust in the sandwiches!", and eating tempura (fried) everything in Japan, fresh and flavorful American food could not have been more exciting! We ordered a combo platter with Santa Fe egg rolls, SPICY buffalo wings, chicken fingers, etc..., a huge chopped salad for me, and a jerk chicken burger for Joe. We ended up packing up about half of our dinner, but it was really exciting! 

A portrait of excess
Lots of people like going to Fukuoka for the shopping, but I don't really get into the schoolgirl style that is popular in Japan, so I went for the cafe route. Joe and I grabbed coffee at Seattle's Best at the base of this mall (I can't remember the name because there are so many) and then wanted to check out the roof garden. WHOA:

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We renewed our vows...with the topiary deer as witnesses.
He puts up with so much for me! I can't stop laughing.
In this same mall, there was an adorable little milkshake shop with a seating area behind it. I looked closer at the seating area, and it's a place to touch up your hair and makeup! Ew. 

This might be the right time to talk about how grossed out I am by Japanese style sometimes. Grown women follow this trend of dressing like a baby and it's really creepy to me. They wear contacts that make their eyes seem bigger, fake eyelashes to look like a doll, and all the photoshopping makes women look like kids. I'm all for moisturizing my skin and staying out of the sun to protect my skin and stay youthful looking, but Japan takes it way too far. I found this store in Fukuoka and all the clothes look like they are made for dolls: 

I think Japan might just have a different outlook on pedophilia than the United States. The legal age of consent in 13 here and I know Japan has a longer history than the US. Maybe it stems from older men being able to take care of young women long ago? Anyway, it's only cute for a minute until you realize how strange it would be to dress like this in any other country. It's almost as weird to me as grown women in the U.S. dying their hair as blonde as it was as a child. Who can trust a blonde adult? ;)

Here is a smattering of other strangeness from the Japanese imagination:
Michigan: Imagination is More Important than Knowledge
I gasped as I walked by this little dog dressed in a beret and left by itself.
I can't help myself.
Silly hats only.
Awesome style spotting at the fish market.
Punk dog
A Brucey dog with his little sister on a sidecar leash! KAWAII!
Detroit-themed haircuts?
The main event for our trip to Fukuoka was to go to our first sumo wrestling match. We bought tickets at FamilyMart (a convenience store like 7-11) and made our way to the match on the very last day we were in Fukuoka. It was BIZARRE. Sumo wrestlers are nothing to joke about! These guys have rippling muscles and rippling fat stores. We learned a lot about the history from a brochure they gave us on arrival and about all the symbolism in the ring. Here are some pictures from our crazy afternoon watching sumo:

There are things in this life better left unseen. We had the crack-view for the entire match.
We discovered that seating is a bit different in Japan. You can buy a futon area for around $200 and fit as many people as you'd like on it. I'd recommend the cheap seats!

We took lots of video from the event, but I just can't bring myself to rewatch the footage and see all those naked butts again. Maybe another time!

Thanks for reading!