Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Kawaii Cappuccino

This next subject, cappuccino, hardly makes up for the fact that there are no cafes on base or near base. However, there are places in the surrounding area where you can commission a beautiful piece of artwork in your froth. 

"I'm a cat that snuck into your coffee!"

"I'm just a bear!"
The two places that are best are L Style Cafe by the train station and Primavera which is hidden away past Mike's Tex-Mex down a side street by the Eneos gas station over the bridge. I've had a chance to go by myself, with Joe, and with a fabulous group of girlfriends/co-workers. A bonus of going with a group is being able to take pictures of everyone's cappuccino! 
Sleeping bunny! Just turn your head :)


The coffee below was for my friend Chaplain Skelton. We were celebrating her birthday and this was definitely the most appropriate one for her!

Bear friends

Moon & Star
I hope people in the states like these pictures! If you're thinking about how unjust the world is for not letting you have the cutest coffee in existence, it's just a plane ride (or two or three) away!

Eddie's Big Day Out

"Kawaii" is one of my favorite words that I've learned in Japanese. It is translated as meaning "cute" but really encompasses a lot more than that. People get really emotional over things that are kawaii, so I guess it can also mean precious, adorable, special, detailed, or whatever else gets the point across. The only reason I know it is because people constantly will stop me on the street when I'm walking Eddie and cry out "kawaii!!!" as if expressing their deepest emotion or despair.

So that you know what I'm working with here, this is Eddie on his first birthday. The poor thing didn't get any presents or a cake, but he did get his favorite thing: a hike up a very long hill and a treat at the top! We even made stops for belly rubs from strangers! Woohoo!

He did get a pretty snazzy birthday hat:

Family picture pre-hike

Baby dog picture on our way across the bridge
The whole family got to the top of the mountain!
 As you can see, Joe and I are celebrating the special day by wearing our Shiba Inu shirts from Eddie's Grandma Anna. We rarely get to wear them together, but it was the perfect opportunity. I think Eddie appreciated the extra attention to detail, but did not particularly care for the birthday hat. 

We had an ulterior motive for this hike as well: we're thinking about hiking Mt. Fuji next year. It's time to get these hiking muscles into shape!

Here today, Guam tomorrow

It's really been a while since I updated my blog! Isn't it ironic how we don't have time to record our lives when we're the busiest and our lives are changing the most dramatically?

One of the biggest reasons I haven't been posting is because I'm working on base now! I work with a great team of women and I really like my new job. It definitely has its ups and downs, like the huge confidence boost from doing back-to-back trainings in one day for large groups of Marines and Sailors, or a recent event that I planned for weeks and had to cancel because of low participation. The last one made me feel a little like this guy: 7 Seconds to Explain. 

Joe was in Guam for over a month and I successfully managed life without him! Well, not quite: I snuck in a quick weekender to see him during the first few weeks. What can I say? Guam was magical! I never thought about Guam until I started hearing about Joe going there every so often. I learned that it is part of America and abides by the same rules and laws that we have in America. This means people are allowed to stay out past midnight! Woohoo! The Marines were all pretty excited about that one.

It's also incredibly picturesque in Guam. It's like a smaller, less developed Hawaii with a lot more military presence. We had a chance to go scuba diving in two different locations and saw an amazing array of sea creatures: different starfish, sea cucumbers, coral of every color, and fish of just about every size. On our way to another dive site we actually had to stop the boat FOR DOLPHIN! There was a whole school of them playing in the displaced water off the bow of our boat.

Aside from that magic (I swear I had to catch my breath from gasping so many times!), we also got to stay at the Westin. Usually when you think about guys on deployment, you're thinking about barracks rooms, nasty showers, and a sea bag's worth of personal belongings to get you through a few weeks. Oh no. The Japanese government paid for these guys to stay at the Westin for weeks on end with luxurious rooms, a gorgeous white sand beach, generous wifi and beach bar in front. I just fainted thinking about it. Oh, then they stuck all the guys in the barracks for a few weeks at the end for a reality check. 

We had to make an emergency exit at Two Lovers Point. What a beautiful view and appropriate name!
I really didn't take many pictures, but let me assure you: we had an amazing time! I really enjoyed going to a Macy's (I would have run out screaming if I was comparing it to the same store in Michigan), shopping around souvenir shops, getting burnt to a crisp, and going on evening walks with Joe. And the food! I've discovered that I'm very much over Japanese food after being here for a year and a half. I don't especially dislike it, but most of it is overpriced, bland, or has a face. The food in Guam was fabulous. Joe picked me up from the airport and took me to a gross/awesome (depends on your taste?) Denny's-style diner where we shared some midnight snacks when I first arrived. We went to the hotel's Starbucks, a Ruby Tuesdays, California Pizza Kitchen (which I always pronounce California Chicken Pizza for some reason), and a Hard Rock Cafe. I also had a chance to write a post card to my mom at Port of Mocha coffee house. A coffee house! We don't have those here in Iwakuni, so it was truly like having a weight lifted from my shoulders. 

The trip was really over just as fast as it began. I wanted to stay longer or forever, but real life (and Eddie!) were calling. Hopefully I'll be able to go back again next time!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Safari Land and Akiyoshido Caves

Joe and I went on a little day trip through Information, Tours, & Travel (ITT) on base. I don't use their services nearly enough, but they are wonderfully helpful, bilingual employees. We've looked to ITT to find dog-friendly ryokans - Japanese B&Bs and to make restaurant reservations. 

For our trip to northern Yamaguchi prefecture, we went on an organized trip. I normally would rather travel alone to allow for more spontaneity and fewer crying babies, but being able to just hop on a bus and doze off takes away an extra headache and is much cheaper. Win-win!

Our first stop were the prehistoric caves. These reminded me of the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky! I wonder if my sister and cousins (Mike and Jimmy) remember that trip? Great memories. Anyway, here is a quick glimpse of what we were able to capture:

Entering the unknown underground world....

Obviously Japan gives you informational sideboards with kawaii cavemen.

Stalagmites, Stalagtites.

"Goddess of Mercy"


The cave's claim to fame: the largest limestone deposit ever discovered. Woop-de-doo!

I thought the middle one looked like garlic cloves packaged together.

These caves were once underwater and were coral reefs. The lines you see are from jelly fish climbing up and down and eroding the limestone.

"The Thousand Rice Fields": Do you like how we tried to include the signs so we could remember the names?
Shaped like Mt. Fuji

Cavewoman Heather
Just some underground rapids, NBD.

We made it out alive! It was really cool to see this cathedral-esque opening after being in a cave all day.

We made a quick stop to take in the limestone fields on top of the caves. This is a "quasi-national park".

More of the quasi-national park.

The end of Akiyoshido Caves and Quasi-National Park.

After this stop, we got to see the animals! Check out my post about Safari Land coming up soon.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Late February in Tokyo

Tokyo. I'd been waiting for years to experience Tokyo! It absolutely did not disappoint. I spent a few days looking over all my Japan tour guides (it's verging on collection-status) and my bucket list for things to see and do during just two days in the big city. Here's a rundown of some Tokyo highlights:

Love this picture! We arrived just before Hinamatsuri, a festival for Hina dolls. These dolls are a very old tradition: made by hand and very expensive. The first daughter in a family traditionally is given a set of Hina dolls by the maternal grandparents.

Visiting a bar called "GasPanic!" didn't sit so well with me after growing up down the street from a Holocaust Museum, but we had a drink there and kept moving:
"If you use the VIP room, you will need to purchase a bottle of champagne." Thank you for the warning!
It was pouring down rain during our time in Tokyo! I promise this isn't a Liam-sized cardboard cutout!

I promise he was there, even though Liam looks like a cardboard cutout.
In the morning, it was time to head to the fish market! The Tsukiji Fish Market is one of the biggest attractions in Tokyo, but we didn't know that it was almost completely shut-off to visitors. Research fail. As we were wandering around ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the massive tuna and other seafood I couldn't even recognize, we kept getting stink-eyed and asked to move out of the way. Later we found out that it's closed to visitors until 9am. We got a few pictures and videos, so we are a part of an elite group now!

Wheelbarrow with tuna on top

Tuna at the end of the auction

Action shot of tuna being carried away.
We also had a chance to experience a Japanese capsule hotel:
Gain +1 for checking off a bucket list item, even at the expense of group bathing with Japanese ladies.
We also saw the famous Hatchi statue (go see the movie if you haven't already!) outside Shibuya Station:

A big version of our little Eddie!

Just another example of the animal craziness in Japan

We headed over to Starbucks and got this great, Koyaanisqatsi-esque video of the world's largest crossing on a slow day:

We also needed to see Harajuku, so we headed over and sat down at a Maid Cafe for a little while for beer and snacks. I think this (very unflattering) video perfectly encapsulates how I feel about Japanese food: "Oh, chicken cartilage? That really sounds delicious, maybe another time.." Just to clarify, at the Maid Cafe, the waitresses are paid to act as though you are a princess and master. It is bizarre and awkward, like lots of things in Japan.

We wandered through cute vintage shops and played games in the arcades like this one: 

Then we needed another caffeine fix. We, sadly, do not have any cafes here at MCAS Iwakuni, so I get inordinately excited when we have the chance to visit places with even a Starbucks. We get stale Seattle's Best here at our coffee bar so I mostly don't bother. We visited City Country City while walking around in Harajuku and indulged in freshly brewed espresso and chocolate cake. Look at these beauties! The whole menu was in Japanese aside from the headings and no one around us spoke English, so I pointed at "Cake Set" on the menu, said, "kohi" and then said "chocolate?" while tilting my head. This is how I ask for coffee and chocolate cake. HA.

Be still!
Other notable happenings: we had dinner in a treehouse in Harajuku and just hung out that night checking out all the great fashion. Earlier in the day I also stopped at H&M and Forever 21! I really miss shopping, so that was fun. Here's a quick example of a girl dressed like Strawberry Shortcake with faux eyelashes just hanging out on the train: 

Check out the girl in the striped tights.

So this was the first, awesome half of our trip to the Tokyo area. The next post will be the *other* half :)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Day Two in Nagasaki

Konichiwa! On our second day in Nagasaki, we had big plans for a birthday lunch. To make the most of the day, we walked through a covered shopping area, checked out the Chinese New Year decorations in the light of day, went to a famous shrine, and then had a famous shippoku lunch at Kagetsu, toured the gardens, and then headed back to the bus for a long bus ride home.

More fun new year's decorations!

Stained glass for my mom! A cultural gift from the dutch:

A nice covered shopping area decorated for the new year. Lots of western influence in the architecture.

We walked to Sofukuji Temple in Nagasaki through the covered shopping areas shown above. This temple is interesting because it actually survived the bombing in 1945. The shrines in this area were routinely inspected over the years to make sure people weren't secretly becoming Christian or any other sects of Buddhism. Japan thought it was very important to maintain the status quo.

Arrival at the shrine

Joe at the shrine

Approaching the first sun-dappled shrine
Japanese love their stairs

Beautifully painted lotus on the woodwork supporting the roof on one of the temples. 

Gorgeous shrine with Buddhist apostles along the sides. Some date back to the 1300s.

I really don't know enough about Buddhism to explain temples. They are quite amazing to see though.

These guys were terrifying.

This looked like a cemetery but was incredibly gorgeous with the sunlight and shadows.

This massive cauldron was cast to make porridge for the townspeople during a WWII famine. One of the monks would make porridge and dish it out until there was nothing left.
Unfortunately, I'm not very knowledgeable about Eastern spirituality, so I don't think I got the full experience. Sofukuji was beautiful to walk around, but I think I've had enough temples. To be fair, I also realized I'd had enough churches when we were living and traveling in Europe. 
The big moment had finally come: my shippoku birthday lunch at Kagetsu! This is how Fodor's describes Kagetsu: 

"This quiet hilltop retreat is Nagasaki's most prestigious restaurant. Dishes are served kaiseki (Kyoto-style multicourse meals) or shippoku, an elaborate course blending Asian and European elements. The interior wooden beams date to 1618, when Kagetsu was reputedly a high-class brothel. According to another local legend, Meiji Restoration leader Ryoma Sakamoto once took a chunk out of a wooden pillar with his sword during a brawl, leaving a still visible gash."

We had an entire tatami room to ourselves and had a grand tour of the restaurant, including visiting the room with the famous sword gash. Our waitress/hostess/new best friend didn't speak any English but encouraged us to take lots of pictures. I wouldn't want the pictures to languish on my hard drive forever, so please enjoy!

All pictures courtesy of my lovely and talented husband. Here I am opening the lid on my green tea as we began our marathon meal.

Our hostess took us on a tour of the historic restaurant. This room has the famous sword marks in a wooden beam! The table is set for diplomats.

Looking out a glass window, you can see another part of the restaurant, the gorgeous gardens, and a peek of our hostess' obi (belt).

A torii gate in the garden.

A view looking down

Me and Joe back in Lilliput

Gorgeous scroll work in the museum-like area of the restaurant

The famous wooden beam where Sakamoto left a gash. New goal: I want to be famous enough to accidentally ruin peoples' things and have them become famous for it.

A parody of Dutch and Portuguese traders with their wares.

Geisha tools of the trade

I saw a horse from this.

Women traditionally play this two-string guitar.

Another nice scroll. All these ancient frames sit on little cushions. Adorable.

The stairs were so steep!

We arrived back at our tatami room for a tapas-style meal.

Delicious! We didn't eat the dandelion.

Nagasaki is famous for their braised pork belly. I'm not a big fan of it or the green gelatin.

Pickled vegetables in delightful jars.

Adzuki beans in syrup

This was possibly my favorite course. We each had one little basket full of tiny pieces of vegetables and the baskets were edible!

Our hostess stayed in the hall almost the entire time. I know it's weird that Joe took a picture, but she was the most darling lady.

I changed my mind! This was my favorite! Egg + Mushroom bite or the tiny wedge of a grilled cheese sandwich with mushroom inside?

The carrots are cut into cherry blossom shapes and another vegetable (rolled kale?) acts as a branch. The only other thing I can identify is the brussel sprout.

More braised pork belly plus peppers! The peppers weren't spicy at all, but the pork belly was too fatty for my taste.

Soup and pickled vegetables to cleanse our palettes

Of course, mashed adzuki bean with a dumpling for dessert!

This lady was so incredibly sweet! I told her it was my birthday (it was! in Michigan) and she was nice enough to pose for a picture with me.

More tea and a custard dessert with a melon ball, two pieces of strawberry, and a mint leaf.

Leaving Kagetsu with my birthday date!

Immediately outside the restaurant
Japanese gardens are so beautiful!

Koi pond!

Torii gate

You should know something about me: I can't resist a good topiary.

You should know something else about me: I *know* stairs like these lead to secret gardens!

A white dragon! Oooh! This one is in the display case for some reason. I learned that dragons are considered very lucky and a sign of purity in Japanese culture, unlike how they are terrifying in my culture.

Thanks for joining me on my photography tour of Nagasaki! Thanks so much to everyone who sent me birthday greetings too! 

Looking forward to two more birthdays in Japan,