Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hair and Mikoshi

It rained today. It's still raining. The wind is blowing like it did during the typhoon. My umbrella broke, you know how the wind catches it and turns it inside out. Uh huh. This is my third umbrella in 5 weeks (I lost one). After this, I get my umbrellas from the 100 yen store.

HAIR CUT STORY - Men can skip down to the Mikoshi Parade photo...

I had my hair done in town today. Communication was iffy, but all is well. I'm used to color, cut, shampoo, blow dry, in that order. Today it was shampoo (for about 15 minutes), cut, color, condition (including a 10 minute massage while the conditioner set). Then another rinse and style. They handled me like a china doll. I could barely feel the cut, but the massage felt great.

My appointment was 2:30, and Allan & I had a 'Hail and Farewell' to attend at 5:00. I wasn't sure I'd make it, but wasn't going to ruin this experience worrying about anything. I like the cut, but I never like the way they style it. I'm an old lady, but I don't want an old lady hairstyle. I don't know how to say 'spike it up', but I'm studying Japanese, so pretty soon...

I was out (in galeforce wind) by 4:40, and off to the 'Hail and Farewell', which is a gathering to greet newcomers or a sendoff for people going to a new assignment. Today, it was shabu shabu and farewell to Capt. Kobayashi, Allan's C.O.

The shabu shabu was fun. Large plates of raw thinly slice beef and pork were delivered to our table which had a pot of boiling water at it's center. We got vegetables from a buffet table and everyone put some into the pot. Then we picked up some meat with chopsticks and swished it back and forth. We each has two small bowls of sauce to dip the meat or vegetables into. We ate for an hour. I don't know how, but Allan has lost 5 pounds. And I found it.

In other news... recently, the gates of the base were opened up for the 33rd annual Mikoshi parade.

A mikoshi is a portable Shinto shrine. Once a year, the Gods leave the permanent shrines, and enter a Mikoshi to celebrate and see the people.

Forty-eight mikoshi were carried through town and onto the base. One had an American crew.

There were also wheeled carts called Dashi, with drums and flutes (it's not rock 'n' roll).

Allan and I missed most of the festivities (like the actual parade), because we are still trying to get settled. We spend our weekends looking for a house and practicing our driving on the left in city traffic.

This guy was just too cute not to photograph.
He looks like he might have participated in all 33 parades.

It looks a bit like Mardi Gra, don't you think? The crews wear matching Happi (hoppy).
The Mikoshi Parade is the only time that base security is relaxed, and the Yokosukans get onto the base.

This gives the locals a chance to buy an American pizza. Japanese pizzas are a bit… umm, AWFUL.

They’re ½ the size at twice the cost of the pizza on base. Ever had a tuna, boiled egg, mayo and corn pizza? Yeah, that’s what I say. Well, it’s no surprise that American style pizza is such a hit. That's a Sbarro box she's carrying.

The base has two pizzerias, and I think Mikoshi Festival is like Dec. 24th for them. They sell a LOT of pizza!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Oktoberfest and Yokohama

Oktoberfest in Yokohama. And we were there. It's a beautiful, modern city known for two things, its shopping district and its Chinatown. We didn't get to either, but there's plenty of time - we've got 3yrsinjapan.
We rode the train to Yoko- hama, and walked toward the port. Is this a modern day rickshaw? That's the first I've seen.
From here, we could hear music coming from a tent that overflowed with people.
We had taken the train with Craig and Karen. We met up with Chris, who lives in Yokohama and Mark and Haromi, who'd left Yokosuka early so that Haromi could hunt for Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
The tent was filled with Japanese singing along with the band, eating bratwurst, sauerkraut, soft pretzels and a dozen other German dishes . . .

. . . and drinking some very expensive beer - 1300 yen ($14.77).
I lived in Germany in the 70s, so I recognized the German glasses with a short line just below the top with '500 ml ' printed next to it, so you know you're buying 1/2 liter of beer. No plastic here. You could choose from steins, stem or pilsner glasses with brightly painted labels, and pay a 1000 yen ($11.43) deposit for their use.
These were beautiful glasses and I considered keeping ours, but there's not much room for tchotchkes (nicknaks) in Japanese houses.

Wherever you are, $14.77 is a LOT for a beer, but we're on vacation so we're having fun.

After eating and drinking, Karen and I took a stroll through shops in a renovated warehouse where I found something called Yokohama glass, a bit like Swarovski crystal. Of course I bought a little bauble.
The sales lady wrapped the package and put on a small ribbon and seal. Some other items come wrapped from the factory. A sample item is displayed and you choose the wrapped box with the corresponding description. I bought a pair of socks that were white on the top, and the bottom looked like red ballet slippers.
This isn't an unusual site, seeing very traditional attire in the street next to modern dress. These two ladies were in the shops.

On our walk back to the train, we entered an area called Queen's Square. (What Queen?) The main feature is a ferris wheel. On the quarter hour, there's a light show on the wheel that goes on for about 5 minutes.
Inside the shopping area, we strolled through Hello Kitty. People here are animal lovers, and Hello Kitty is everywhere. We both need slippers, we'll live in a Japanese house. I found some, but Allan thought $40 for Hello Kitty slippers was a bit much, since slippers sell for $5 at most places. Then we found a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop. Haromi is a bit obsessed with Krispy Kreme doughnuts. She and Mark had stopped earlier, but the wait was 30 minutes (apparently Haromi isn't the only Japanese person obsessed with Krispy Kreme). Here, with three people boxing up doughnuts, the wait wasn't much shorter, but the six of us insisted on waiting with her. She and Chris each bought a dozen.
We've met such great people here. We had great fun in Yokohama. I hope we get to go Oktoberfest again next year.
I had my first job interview, for a position teaching English to children. During the interview I sang 'Old McDonald'. They weren't sure I knew American nursery rhymes. They apparently liked my singing, because I was offered the position, but it turned out they only needed me about 4 hours a week, so I'm still looking. I plan to apply at the DOD schools for a substitute position also.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tokyo - The Imperial City

We headed to Tokyo Sunday. A young Chinese woman we met at Temple (or as it's known on base, the Chapel) went along on our first long distance train ride. Her name is Shayna and her husband is at sea. The ride was about 1 hr. 15 min. with a change of trains in Shinagawa. We have train passes, & Allan is scanning his here.

We started at the Ameyoko Market in Ueno, northern Tokyo. This is basically a farmers' market with a lot of recognizable fruits and vegetables and some other stuff... well, you tell me. What is that squigly white stuff? We discussed it and think it's some kind of dried baby fish or shellfish. This of course is pure speculation.

If you remember, Japanese is written using 3 sets of symbols, one being Kanji, which comes from China. Shayna is Chinese and reads Kanji, so when she came across this sign, she pointed it out and translated it: "Don't stand here and pee". Ya can't make this stuff up!

We headed for Senso-ji Temple, but got side tracked at yet another shopping area. It was a heavily traveled street and must have been the kitchenware district, store after store had dishes, pots and pans, utensils, & dumpling and rice steamers. Why couldn't we stumble on the shoe and handbag district? Or jewelry!?

The Senso-ji Temple, left & Pagoda in Tokyo.

After seeing as much kitchen stuff as we wanted, we set out again for the temple site. It's an important historical site because the Senso-ji Temple has been located here since the 7th century. The buildings have been destroyed (earthquake, WWII) and rebuilt, probably more than once.

When we reached the temple - remember, a Temple is Buddhist and a Shrine is Shinto - we saw a Kabuki troupe. They were young teens, and very serious in their costumes and make-up. A performance was going on, but unfortunately, not only was I unable to get a photo, I couldn't see anything but the very top of the stage.

A large crowd was watching the play, which did not include a dialogue. As the day progressed, we had a nice lunch and nibbled the local offerings. Pastries are not nearly as sweet in Japan as in the US. That's not to say that there are no gooey items.

We stopped to buy this fruit-on-a-stick and got to play a pacinko. The holes were numbered and my ball landed in a '1', so Allan only got one, which was more than we wanted. What we thought was a strawberry was very salty and covered with a thick clear sweet... something. Like a clear candy apple. Shayna thought it was a pickled plum. Well, that was something that we didn't consider.

QUICK LESSON - The price we pay for items in Japan depends on two things, the ticket or negotiated price, and the exchange rate.

Now, because the dollar is weak, one dollar will get you 88 yen, so if you buy something for Y1000, that's $11.43. BUT... you could have bought that item 3 years ago for $8.05 because the exchange rate was 118 yen to the dollar. Needless to say, we hope the dollar rebounds soon.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Yokosuka - The Town

Yokosuka is on Tokyo Bay and has been populated for over 1000 years. It's in typhoon alley - one hit yesterday, and today is sunny, but very windy.
About a million people live in and around the city, so the traffic is pretty heavy. Since we don't have a car, Allan and I are very familiar with the area of Yokosuka we can reach on foot. This is a retired warship called the Mikasa docked a short distance from the south gate.

Once, Yokosuka was the center of Japanese ship building, now there are Nissan and Infinity plants located nearby.

First, we noticed all the differences here - the Japanese don't point with their index finger, they use the one next to it. Yep, their middle finger! Kid wear uniforms to school, K-12. Lots of people wear surgical masks in the streets, and I understand that gets worse during allergy season. It's bad manners to blow on your food, but it's okay to slurp your soup and use a toothpick in public. There's no tipping (that's something I can get behind). And of course there's that whole driving on the wrong side of the road business.

Otherwise, it's alot like the states. Gas is more expensive, toll roads abound, restaurant food costs about the same as stateside, and teenage boys pull their pants down to their thighs. I don't know why they don't fall off.

Just outside the base's main gate is the central shopping street that Americans have named 'Blue Street'.

I think the name comes from the blue rocks in the pavement (see photo at right). Gene, who shares an office with Allan thinks it's name comes from the Jazz (or Blues) clubs located on the street.

The sidewalks here, and I guess all over Japan, have special three dimensional tiles to assist the visually impaired. Those with the straight lines run the length of the sidewalk and help direct people to the dotted tiles which let you know that there is a crosswalk or some change in the trail. You can find these on the base also.

Convenience store has a whole different meaning in Japan. You can pay your phone, electric and gas bills at the 7/11. There's no charge for the service which we'll be using, I'm sure.

There are prepared foods and regular grocery items which are about the same quality and price as you would find at a regular grocery store. Allan and I checked it out and it was pretty impressive. His favorite thing from the 7/11 is chocolate dipped banana chips. I like them too.

This is a typical restaurant window. This works well for those of us who don't read Japanese. The other good option is the sushi-go-round. You choose items from a conveyer, and pay a small amount for each plate.

Prior to coming here, we asked family and friends what they wanted from Japan. For the person who wanted a Japanese Catholic schoolgirl, (you know who you are) this last picture is for you.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Yokosuka Naval Base

After two weeks, we are moving to the beat of the base & the town. Here is our grocery store. Not as elaborate as Publix, but if we can't get what we need here, the Japanese stores are very good.

You won't need pennies on base. Totals are rounded to the nearest nickel.

The Navy Exchange is our version of Wal-Mart.


We have two theaters, two gyms, a bowling center, a teen center, Chili's, Sbarro, McDonald's, Cinnabon, Popeye's, and the Chapel of Hope, which serves the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish communities. I'm not aware of any Muslims on the base.

Here's a semi-familiar site - a soda machine. So... Allan and I do a lot of walking around, and I bought us each a drink from one of these machines. He got a water, not just water, but sweetened. It didn't have much of a flavor, just tasted sweet, and not very good. I had tea, simple tea. Or not! It tasted like sea water. Turns out it was rice tea. I'm sticking with Coke now.

This MUST be a Japanese ship. Outside of the one Cary Grant and Tony Curtis were on (in Operation Petticoat), I don't know of any US ships in bright colors.
Yokosuka (Yo-KOS-ka) is the largest US base in the Pacific. It housed the Japanese Navy until the end of WWII, and is now shared by the US and Japan.

I don't know the politics of it, but officially, we are here to protect Japan. Not counting the tugboats, about a dozen ships are docked on our side of the bay. The orange ship is not on this side.

These two photos are from the dock area, which includes a ship repair facility.

At right is a rather small vessel in the dry dock.