Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It's Different Here

We've been in the house two weeks and it's almost perfect. We still miss Joey and Sammy. I skype Joey once in a while. But Sammy's doesn't want to talk to me. I hope he'll come around.
On Sunday, we went to Nikko with Jorey. Nikko is a religious center 125 km NW of Tokyo. That being the case, it is full of Temples and Shrines.
After lunch and a walk through town, we passed this 400 year old wooden, red lacquered bridge & arrived at the entrance to the Temple/Shrine area.


I took photos of the pagoda and shrines, but you've seen plenty of those.

This handsome guy is at the entrance. He looks like he could be a guard, but since he's a fountain, I'm guessing he's here to greet tired travelers making the pilgrimage to Nikko. This is purely conjecture on my part. What do you think?>


These are the wise monkeys who 'hear no evil, speak no evil and see no evil'. Who knew the origin of these guys was Eastern religion? Not me.

As it got later, the temperature dropped. By the time we left the Shrines, even Jorey, who's from Boston, was shivering.

On our way back through town, we stopped in this shop where I watched the artist paint a dragon. He would put a message like 'Harmony in the Marriage' or 'Prosperity in Business' in Kanji characters. Jorey came away with 'Supreme Bliss'.>>

It was a long day - 7AM to 10PM. The day before, Allan had left at dawn to play golf. He got lost on his way back and got home after dark, so he had a really busy weekend.

He's been surfing, golfing, touring with Jorey, and this Saturday is paintball with Gene, his office mate and newest best friend. Gene has six boys, four teenagers. They should keep Allan entertained quite well.

It's different here and some things still seem a bit odd. We ride the train alot. There is no talking on cell phones, but texting is okay, so that's how teenagers spend their travel time. Napping, is almost encouraged. The hum of the train is like a lullabye and there is always someone nodding off.

It's rumored in the US that menopausal Asian women don't have hot flashes, because they eat so much soy. Possibly. But there seems to be alot of osteoporosis here, and that is certainly the lack of dairy in the diet.

These bikes are in a mall parking lot right on a major thoroughfare, and about 95% of them are not locked.

There's no plea bargaining here. Break the law - go to jail. People follow rules, they use their seatbelts, stay within the speed limit, stop at crosswalks, and are courteous in traffic.

The Japanese seem to take more pride in their work. Employees at Dunkin' Donut or McDonald's wear clean uniforms. You'll don't see stains, wrinkles, or paper hats. They keep their workspace clean and are attentive to the customers. Wish you were here?

As for driving, you know the wheel is on the passenger side, and when you reach for the blinker, you’ll find the wiper control. I have the cleanest windshield on the base. The geography here is very hilly so driving through tunnels is normal. You should turn on your lights if there aren’t lights in the tunnel. If someone honks, they are letting you into traffic (not giving the aural finger). Flashing your lights or emergency flashers three times is saying ‘thanks’. And if you are stopped behind someone at night, or if people are crossing in front of you, turn off your lights so they don’t get a glare in their face. Lastly, back into parking spaces, because everything is reverse here.

In restaurants, you’ll get a hot towel when you sit, and chopsticks of course.

We turn on hot water in the morning to shower, then off 'til time to do dishes. It takes about 30 seconds for the water to heat. Laundry is strictly cold water. We turn on the faucet by pushing the lever down. Yours turns on when you lift up, go check, I’ll wait.

Then there’s Japlish. Asians love anything western and use English words in strange ways. Phrases like ‘hair make peace’ and 'stable slow you'. Don’t start feeling smug. Our friend Mark says most kanji tattoos found on Americans are equally ridiculous.

Here's the 'Big Buddha' (44' tall) who lives in Kamakura. He's pretty famous in these parts.

The base is US soil, but you can still get a 50 lb. bag of rice, as alot of the wives are not American by birth. Gas is 1/2 price on base, and the seven exchange shops carry almost anything you want, furniture, gardening supplies, Asian gifts and in the main exchange Coach & Dooney bags. My resistance is weakening. I’m a mad pocketbook buyer, just ask my niece Rachel, who’s gotten a pocketbook from me for every occasion since her Bat Mitzvah.

It's time for me to start hustling for some students. I plan to teach English at my home, and I know that there are plenty of kids in this neighborhood. They pass my house on the way to school in the morning. Once I get my first students, everyone assures me I'll have all I can handle. I'm waiting for that.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Moving Day... er Week

It's Friday - As of Monday, we are renters. We love the house, the neighborhood and the country. It's an amazing place and we are thrilled to be here. We aren't fully settled yet, and I'm not even seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but it's okay. We have plenty of time.
We got up at 6:00 this morning. You know that I AM NOT A MORNING PERSON, but we only have one car and I had an appointment today. I'm taking a 3 day weekend, I've earned it. Here's the story...
Monday - We signed the contract so we needed yen, lots of it, in cash, enough for the rent, deposit, owner's fee (!?), agent's fee, 5% tax on the agents fee and renter's insurance and extra for some things we need for the house. We will pay our rent in cash. The Base Housing Office arranged for appliances, had gas and electricity turned on, supplied the paperwork for registering our car, and gave us information on how to sort our trash.

The view from the living room to the kitchen. You recognize our furniture.

We registered our car when we bought it, but must register it for this house. They actually send someone out to measure your car and your parking space. We have 3 spaces (I'm bragging).

I read the rental agreement, which says that we can't put very heavy furniture in (i.e. waterbeds), or put nails in the walls to hang art work or wear shoes in the house. I doubt we'll get any of the deposit back. This place would go for about 30% less to a Japanese renter, but a government inspector (US) approves the fees, so whatta ya gonna do? We actually got the owner down $300 on the rent.

Then it was cable, internet, and phone at the house. The appoint ment was set up for 3:30 and we made it with nano seconds to spare. Our agent put Allan's name on our signpost in Katakana. She came out to label all of the AC and gas heater controls, but missed the oven, so I won't be baking anytime soon. Just as well, the temperature is Celsius. F=5/9C-32? or it it 9/5F+32? I'll check the internet.

This handy item is a security camera. I can see you but you can't see me.
When we finished, it was back to base to meet up with our friend Gene who brought rugs and a TV to the house. Gene and Raeni Russell have seven children, so they have the largest personal vehicle on the base.
Allan piled suitcases in the car and went back to drop them off. Our furniture comes tomorrow, and we'll be out of the lodge after 53 days.
Tuesday - I met a neighbor, who was out directing traffic for kids on their way to school. He introduced himself (in English) as Rico and I said 'yoroshuka onegai shamas' (nice to meet you). Are you amazed?

The movers got our stuff inside in record time. Six guys unloaded, hauled stuff in and offered to unpack. At first I declined, because I didn't know where to put everything. Then they talked me into letting them do it. What could I say? When they left, there were piles everywhere.
The cable and internet installers arrived early, as did the delivery of my washer, dryer and fridge (which was a disappointingly small). Allan went over to the property office to ask for a better one, and got it (rank has it's privilege).
Wednesday - Allan's off for Veteran's Day. We did our best to hack through the piles of clothes, dishes, pictures all that stuff you don't think about having until you see it in a pile. We spent a few hours out shopping for things we needed and when we got home it was trouble in paradise. The culprit is trash disposal. Example: I emptied a salad dressing bottle and had to cut off the plastic seal that attaches the lid, then soak off the label, throw the lid and seal in one bin, label in another and glass in yet another. Allan spent about 2 hours setting up our four cans and deciphering the instruction book of how to separate, what kind of bag is acceptable, and what day each of the 5 types is collected. If it's not right, they leave it with a note telling you how you screwed up and better luck next time.

We got the TV at the exchange, and bought a stand for it in town, but Allan hasn't had time to put it together yet. Did I mention he's going surfing at 5 AM tomorrow? Yes, he does stay busy.

I had a small bowl with dishsoap and a few drops of bleach in the sink. Allan's camera was sitting on the kitchen passthrough counter. We have an enormous sink, and the camera fell into that little bowl. Thankfully, the Schreiber boys gave us a camera as a going away gift. It'll come in handy now.

I mowed through some of the mess before we had our first visitors, who brought a bottle of plum wine (my favorite). We hadn't bought food yet, but our candy dishes were filled. With no dinner in the house, we went out for okonomi yaki. I don't know why, but we like these 'cook it yourself ' dishes. Novelty perhaps.

Thursday - Allan took the car. It didn't matter - I wasn't goin' nowhere! I had appointments for phone installation and refrigerator exchange. This one is so much better. It's Japanese, as is the washer & dryer. I don't know why they bother with dryers, it took 2 hours to dry my first load. I'll be drying one load of laundry each day.

This was cleanup day and I did for about 10 hours. Allan had a bowling tournament after work and arrived home at around 8:30 to find me sprawled on a chair gasping for air. My back and arm were throbbing, which meant I didn't sleep well. That brings us to getting up at 6 AM today.

We were out all day, and we decided to try a neighborhood restaurant called 'Table 9'. Sounds like it should have an English menu, right? Nope. But we took our chances and were not disappointed. We each chose something from the pasta list. Mine was chicken (very little) & cream sauce (which was just cream). It had a dry green topping which I thought might be basil, but this is Japan - it was seaweed, pretty good too.

Tomorrow while Allan is surfing, I might use the time to experiment with the buses. I'm good with the train, so if I get the right bus to the train station, I can get anywhere.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Our First Family Visit

On Saturday we went to Tokyo to spend the day with Allan's cousin, Jorey Ramer. We left early and had a 45 minute train ride. The trains are clean and comfortable, but crowded. The first part of the ride, I stood holding that plastic ring that hangs from the ceiling.
While on the train, I imagined how many more cars would be on the road if so many people didn't choose the train. Aarrrgghh! What a nightmare. Did I mention that the population of Japan is 1/2 that of the US, and the country is size of California? Yeah, it's a bit crowded.
Anyway, Jorey's been in Tokyo on business four times over the last few months, so he knows the city better than we do. He planned an itinerary and led our expedition.
Tokyo is a fabulous clean city with great architecture, restaurants, shopping and some pretty bizarre sites. Just look at this guy (girl?).
Did you see Inglorious Bastards? Well, while we were walking on a great shopping street, Jorey and I both stopped, SURE we had seen the girl who played Shoshona. Allan wasn't convinced. She stopped for a minute and then went into a store, so we got a good look at her. But none of us was willing to go ask, so we just discussed it for a while.

Earlier we saw a 1000 year old shrine. Prior to entering the area where the shrine sits, we came across these empty saki casks. I saw these at the Kamakura shrine also. They look small here, but each one holds probably 40 gallons. Somebody had a heck of a revival!

Around the shrine, there were quite a few ladies and little girls dressed in kimono, probably to attend a wedding.

It was November 7 (11/7), which must be a lucky day, because we saw 4 wedding processions, and actually witnessed part of a wedding ceremony.
The procession is very slow and people visiting the shrine all take photos, but the participants keep there eyes ahead and it's all very solemn, except for clicking cameras.
The groom's family is directly behind the couple and the guy with the umbrella, then the brides family. I figured this out because one of the grooms was caucasian, so it wasn't hard to figure out which set of parents was his. This makes alot of sense. The man is always the more important in this society.

We lunched at a sushi-go-round, where you sit at a bar and pick your food off a conveyor belt. There was edamame, fruit, soup and great variety of sushi. This was the best sushi-go-round we've been to so far.

We stopped at an antique store and a toy store (Jorey made a purchase), then headed to the Roppongi District where the nightlife happens. Jorey had been to Gonpachi, a restaurant whose claim to fame was that part of 'Kill Bill 2' had been filmed there. The food was really good, and I guess that's why Quentin Tarrantino likes the place.

We met the Japanese/Cuban Maitre d', and Allan questioned him about the 'Kill Bill' connection. He said that Quentin does indeed frequent the place when in Tokyo and that he would be in with Brad Pitt on Monday. That they were in town to promote a movie. BINGO! Quentin, Brad and Shoshona! It was our little Nazi killer.
The three of us shared a sampling of the food & tried saki and plum wine. May I say that a good time was had by all. From the restuarant, we tried to find the train station with a big shopping area. I think Jorey did that for me, and I appreciated it. I'm enjoying shopping here. It's not like walking into Macy's and seeing the same stuff you saw in Bloomingdale's. It's more like going into a gallery and seeing different things from the last gallery. And sales people are great. They chatter away in Japanese and wrap packages like every day is your birthday.

We weren't sure when the trains stop running, so we headed back to Yokosuka around nine. I know Allan is looking forward to Jorey's next visit.
We returned home happy and excited to go back and see more of Tokyo. If you plan to visit, expect to see Tokyo. We will be taking you there.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

House Hunting in Yokosuka

!!!GREAT NEWS!!! There is a new dentist in Stuart and he's renting our house. As of Nov. 1, we have tenants. It'll be great if they stay for three years. Keep your fingers crossed. And...

we found a house here. We sign a contract through the base housing office on Nov. 9 and our furniture is delivered on Nov. 10. This is it...

We’ve adjusted to life on base. You can’t forget that it’s a Naval Base, there are uniforms all around and buildings have names like NavSup (Navy Supply) and Comfleat (!?!?).

In the theatres (admission is $3), before the previews, we stand for the National Anthem. But it is Japan and there are vending machines that take yen. I carry 2 wallets, yen and dollars.

Allan's glad to have a cellphone on his belt and keys in his pocket. We got the phones without paying anything, or giving them a credit card. I’ve been instructed to come in before the 15th of the month and pay the bill. Strange but true.

We also bought a Nissan Cube, a cute little box that’s roomier on the inside than it looks on the outside. Our tag number is Y 866. The Y indicates that we are Americans.
It's day 47 in the Navy Lodge, but Allan's holding up fairly well. He's in a room with a beautiful woman, two beds and ESPN. How bad could it be?

So we've been house hunting. We do not want to live on base. I can be surrounded by Americans in Florida. I’m in Japan and I want the full experience - maybe not full full. I do like my conveniences.

My requirements are simple, rooms that will fit my furniture, no tatami mats (we’ll cover that), an oven, closets and a parking space. Simple, right? Oh, nay, nay.
Let me describe a Japanese house:
The kitchen – two-burner stove, no oven, fish grill (teeny broiler used ONLY for fish), smallish but adequate refrigerator, no pantry, very little storage, even less counter space. Oddly the sink is big enough to bathe a terrier.
The tatami room - the photo below shows a 1 meter x 2 meter tatami mat, and the room is measured by the number of mats. They're made out of grass so your house smells like you just mowed the living room. And I imagine they damage easily, so you pay for new ones when you vacate the house. As I said, no tatami rooms.
Bathroom – This room has a tub and the portion of the room outside the tub is the shower. No soap in the tub, because the water recirculates through a heater to keep it hot. Western style houses might have a non-circulating tub, so I can take a bubble bath.
Toilet – This room has only a toilet, or a toilet/bidet. With the latter, you relieve yourself, then get a little spritz on your privates. That's what I call hygiene!
Home toilets are sometimes equipped with hand washing facilities, like the photo, but since the water runs into the tank, what about soap?

When you're walking through town, you may be offered a small pack of tissue with some advertisement attached. Take it. Most public toilets have a sink, but no toilet paper, soap or paper towels.

Storage - I don’t know where clothes are stored, but few older (15 years) houses have closets with racks. There is plenty of space to store your futon when you are not sleeping on it. There are few garages, so where do you store your tools, golf clubs, fishing tackle, scuba gear, and bicycle? We'll need to figure that out.

There’s a machine here that washes AND dries clothes. A young Japanese woman, whose husband is from Missa-sippi (I wrote that with a suthern accent), says they don’t really work well and I believe her. I’m going for the loaner from the Navy. Yes indeed, the Navy will give you a refrigerator, stove, microwave, washer and dryer if you live in Japanese housing. That's your tax dollars at work.

After about 15 houses, we found a new house with a roof deck that has a view of Tokyo Bay. We loved the place... except there were NO closets in any of the bedrooms and almost no cabinets in the kitchen. The owner intends to buy some storage from IKEA (yep, it's in Japan) and we had hoped to make it work, but we saw this other house (no view) with lots of closets, a good kitchen and parking (which isn't automatic). We hated giving up the deck, but we're going with this one.

The address is Shonan Takatori 3-3-1 Yokosuka. That will not help you find it. Like the U2 song, this is a place where the streets have no names. No kidding. Only the highways have numbers. To find a house, you will be given directions based on landscape and landmarks... (go through 4 tunnels and turn right at the public phone booth).

Don't worry, if you come to visit, we'll pick you up and bring you to the house.

QUICK LESSON – Kobe beef, you’ve heard about it, that deliciously marbled beef that you cut with a fork. But did you know... the cows are raised in a very clean barn, and they eat the highest grade of oats or grain. Then they get pampered with massages and classical soothing music, so that they are always calm and serene. Whooee!! Yeah, it’s all fun and games until someone gets slaughtered and eaten.