Thursday, December 29, 2011

Shunan Orphanage

While Joe was in Guam, I had the chance to go to a local orphanage with our Family Readiness Officer, Chaplain, a great group of caring Marines, and unit families. This visit really put me in the holiday spirit. The kids who live at this orphanage do everything with each other, share everything with each other, and care for one another as they grow up.

A few interesting things I learned about how Japanese care for children with no home:
  • A parent without the means to support their child can give up their child to an orphanage, but retain rights to the child until he or she is six years old. A young mother, for example, can be back on her feet in six years and care for her child on her own again.
  • Unwed mothers and unplanned pregnancies are still very taboo in Japan.
  • There is no foster care system in Japan (from what I understand).
  • The same schooling system still applies for kids in orphanages: they must study constantly to test into high school. If they don't score well, they can study more and take a test equivalent to a G.E.D., but can only qualify for jobs like manual labor or working in convenience stores. 
Thanks so much to Becky V. for taking these pictures at the orphanage!

This was our amazing group and a few of the older kids from Shunan Orphanage:

A few of my new friends with their gifts from Santa

As hard as I tried to treat all the kids equally, little Rion (?) and her brother were my favorites.
Santa's elf and two of the cutest kids in Iwakuni.
Santa introducing himself to all the kids
After Santa and his elf handed out all the gifts and the children opened and played with them for a while, the kids went back to their regular schedule and one of our guides showed us around to get a feel for how the kids live day-to-day.

This is the room where all the toddlers sleep. There is a wall of cabinets that fit futon mattresses in them when not in use. Sleeping on the tatami mats is a Japanese tradition.
The older kids sleep and study in the same areas.
Coloring time in the playroom!
We are making plans to do another trip before next Christmas so the kids know they have our attention throughout the year, and not just near the holidays. They really are great kids and I hope they are reunited with their parents or find loving families soon. 

If anyone in the Iwakuni area is reading this and wants to get involved, contact your FRO or Chaplain about organizing a visit to the Shunan Orphanage. It was well worth the quick drive down the Sanyo Expressway.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmastime in Iwakuni

Joe was deployed in Guam  for the majority of the holiday season, but finally made it back with a few days to spare before Christmas. It was sad to decorate the house with no one to enjoy the twinkly lights with, but I'm thankful that Joe's deployments are as short as they are. 

On Joe's first full day back in Iwakuni, we bundled up and drove to Hiroshima to check out the Dreamination display along the Peace Boulevard, or Heiwa Odori. We hit Starbucks for fancy dessert drinks and used the heat to warm our hands as we checked out the crazy displays. 

Hearts all over the tree!
A kiss under the light tunnel :)

Cinderella's Slipper

A pretty tree/teepee with an entrance gate and peek into the inner-workings.

Yours truly and my favorite Marine reunited at last!
It was a gorgeous display and fascinating to see. Strangely, only 2% of Japanese label themselves as Christian, so I didn't see any nativity scenes or anything of religious significance. It's interesting to see how Christmas has been appropriated as an almost purely commercial spectacle in Japan.

Check out the next blog for another holiday highlight: My trip to Shunan Orphanage with a few of the Marines and families from our unit.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Animal Mania!

Our 6-month-old miniature Shiba Inu puppy has me wrapped around his paw. I know this is stating the obvious, but I just wanted to let any potential readers know that they can skip this post if they aren't obsessed with my dog.

Eddie's been on a few adventures lately. His first dog sitter was Uncle Sgt Dang, who watched him over Veteran's Day weekend when we went to Fukuoka. Eddie had the chance to play Call of Duty with Dang and his friends, and even play with a full-sized Shiba Inu. He gave us video proof of their playdate:

Today, Eddie got to meet two feline friends, Hank and Pearl! Pearl stayed out of the way for the most part, but Hank seemed to like chasing Eddie and playing in their parents' big backyard. 

First, they sniffed each other out. Both approved!

Next, Eddie explored the fenced-in backyard! He was delighted and decided to terrify Hank by running around like crazy:

We are so happy to be visiting Michigan soon, and even happier that our little furry friend will be staying with animal lovers like Stephanie and Adam! 

Speaking of going out of town, Miho and Pete are currently en route to Maui for their belated Honeymoon! Their Italian Greyhound, Brucey, is going to be hanging out with us until they get home again. I was nervous how the two puppies would get along, but they ended up sharing a rope toy, following commands together, and both cuddling on the couch together with me. 

Both inspecting the rope toy
Mom, can we have a snack now?
Beautiful Brucey is having a good time!
It's so hard leaving the furry creatures, but easier when we have great friends in Iwakuni to help out.

The Chicken Shack

Possibly since our first day in Iwakuni, people have been mentioning The Chicken Shack to us. To me, the restaurant name evokes memories of trying to find a safe place to use the bathroom in Detroit. Any restaurant that brags about catering your party for $4 a person is a little sketchy to me. Please enjoy this link to Michigan's own Chicken Shack if you'd like.

For this superficial reason, I prefer to call the restaurant by it's Japanese name: Sanzoku. According to a well-informed Japanese man, sanzoku means "mountain bandit" in Japanese. We all know the American childhood cliches of being afraid of a monster under the bed/in the closet, but there is a similar fear in Iwakuni of roving mountain bandit attacks. 

Kara had also been urged to check out Sanzoku, so we made a point of going for lunch. We drove up the mountain, taking care to watch out for bandits, and arrived to find the whole place decked out in traditional Japanese flags and tacky Christmas decorations. 

It's awfully Christmas-y for a nation that is 99% Shinto Buddhist, amirite? I guess our spirit is just contagious.

So, we finally wandered our way inside, accidentally asked to be sat in the middle of the smoking section, and the waitress gave us English menus. I ordered udon (thick noodles in broth) with yamame (because it sounds like "call me" in Spanish), a rice ball, and chicken on a skewer (their specialty). Well, yamame turned out to be a whole fish plopped into my udon.

You can take your shoes off to sit here.
Fish in my soup, chicken on my skewer.
The chicken had a good marinade on it, and the decor was very Japanese, but I'm not sure why people insist new people go to Sanzoku. We decided to walk around the outside for a while to check out the famous grounds. 
In-ground tables have heaters underneath! The heat is trapped inside using the tablecloth.

Kara with a pagoda in the background

Pretty waterfall on your way to the dining area

More outdoor seating

A snowman who has put up with one too many snowy nights outside

Kara about to fall in the zen garden!
I really liked the Chicken Shack, and I'm excited to know how close it is. The old-time decor and traditional Japanese seating were enough to give me a taste for Japanese culture, but the fish in my soup was not exactly what I wanted - I told Kara before we started eating that I just didn't want a head in my soup. Wish not granted!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thanksgiving with Kara

Kara just left  the day before yesterday and it was hard to see her go! I had a great time reconnecting, sharing my little Japanese air station town with her, and seeing some of the sites I love here in Japan. Her stay in Iwakuni overlapped with Thanksgiving and I was truly thankful to have her to share the holiday with!

We played our time together by ear and still managed to check off lots of Iwakuni Bucket List items. Here's a quick rundown of the beginning of her visit:

Kara made it here on a space-available flight on the day of Joe's Wet Down! Shockingly, it only took an hour and a half, and it was free because we are military dependents! We had beer chilling and put Kara to work immediately with getting things set up for the festivities. She excelled in setting out cheese at a 45-degree angle. ;) We had lots of fun and even Eddie got to enjoy the party (or rather, our guests got to enjoy Eddie). 

On Monday, we went to Yanai with my friend Alex. She is (very unfortunately!) PCSing soon and wanted to stock up on soy sauce from an actual soy sauce brewery in Yanai. I had no idea what to expect, but was surprised that a goldfish was the city's claim to fame. There were cartoon goldfish everywhere! We walked around the quiet downtown area and checked out the famous white walls from the Edo period. We finally found our way to the brewery and got to climb stairs to check out the brewing process.
Wilkommen to Yakai! This adorable dude looks like an owl but he's a goldfish. Love me some manhole covers.

At the brewery! Kara and Alex are posing in front of the massive platform that houses the soy sauce pools.
It looks like coffee grounds, but is actually soy sauce in progress. Nobody took me up on my dare to grab a handful.
Next up is our visit to Iwakuni's famed cultural site: The Chicken Shack a.k.a Sanzoku. Watch for the next post!