Tuesday, January 26, 2010

... and sumo of course!

Believe it or not, Liz has a guest columnist for her blog. On Sunday, January 24th, I went to Tokyo for the finals of the sumo matches. LtJG Amanda Dillinger works with me as an Industrial Hygiene Officer. Back in early December, MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) placed an announcement that tickets would be going on sale for the sumo event. Amanda and I talked about going and the next day, she went to pick up tickets. But all the tickets were sold so she placed her name on the waiting list for 6 tickets. Back in early January, she heard that they got more tickets and we would be going.

Before I go on about the trip, let me explain more about sumo. The Japanese take a lot of foreign influences and put their own twist and make it theirs, but sumo is truly Japanese. According to Japanese legend, the very origin of the Japanese race depended on the outcome of a sumo match. The supremacy of the Japanese people on the islands of Japan was supposedly established when the god, Takemikazuchi, won a sumo bout with the leader of a rival tribe. Apart from legend, however, sumo is an ancient sport dating back some 1500 years. The sumo ring is called a dohyo and takes its name for the straw rice bag which marks out its different parts. The dohyo is 18 feet square and 2 feet high and is constructed of special kind of clay. A bout is won by forcing the opponent out of the inner circle or throwing him in the dohyo.

On Sunday, we took the bus from the base to Tokyo. Amanda and I were joined by another Lt. from our Department with her girls, the Commander of the destroyer USS Curtis Wilber, and his son and a Lt. Commander from a carrier, the USS George Washington, and his family.

When we arrived a Kokugikan Arena, there were sumo wrestlers arriving, big guys, and colorful banners proclaiming names of individual wrestlers. You can see they decorate the wall with all sorts of art. We entered through an area of 20 tea-house establishments marked by red lanterns, pretty cool.

When we entered the arena, there were matches in progress. These matches were the minor leaguers. The really big and better wrestlers come later in the afternoon. Each match lasts only 5 minutes or so, with most of the time being spent in formalized rituals. The bouts themselves last from 10 to 120 seconds, but the matches are not delayed after one bout finishes, the next starts right away.

Amanda and I had made bets on the outcome of each match (Bruno, you'll like this one). The loser buys lunch. Of course, I won. Speaking of lunch, one of our group found out there was a lunch area serving a dish called sumo soup, based on what the wrestlers eat. It has veggies and lots of meat and seafood, for only 250 yen (about $2.75). It was a great deal.

Following the minor leagues, the major leagues were a site to see. These guys were BIG, and not just fat. The bouts were fast and furious.

The last two fighters were the best of the best, and the winner was awarded the Emperor's Cup. Besides the Cup, he received 6 or 7 other trophies.

They practically showered him with awards which included flags, trophies and exceptional vases. All in all, what an experience. Maybe Liz will attend the next one, but I doubt it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Skiing, working, dealing with technology

Saturday - We're taking it easy today... well, until tonight when we catch a bus to Zao Onsen for two days of skiing. The bus leaves at 1:00 am, but we check in at 12:30. The ride should take 7-8 hours, which leaves me less than fresh for a day on the slopes. This is a two-day trip and it's at an onsen, which is a natural hot springs. There are separate sides for men and women, and then there's that whole naked thing.
Allan has a strained calf muscle from playing paintball, a broken toe from surfing, and my right elbow aches with overuse and cold weather (think snow covered mountain). I hope we get through 2 days of skiing without any major injuries.

Sunday - We checked in at midnight and departed the base at 1:00am. After a couple stops and 7 hours, we got to the resort. Happily, we received coupons for lunch, dinner and breakfast, which we weren't expecting. We shared a lunch early in the day (no breakfast) and skied for a few more hours. The runs weren't challenging. I don't think Allan was thrilled with them, but good for me. What wasn't good is the lift chairs. They were set up for children. I was hit in the calf every ride. And several times the chair hit so close to my boot top that I got pinched. Yep, I've got a bruise like a softball. Aaarrrrggghhhh!

We had some trouble getting back to the resort, can you guess why? Well, there were three trails and of course the first two didn't get us there. When we did get back, Allan tried out the onsen, but I had a hot soak in the room. Japanese bathtubs are deep and narrow, so you can easily soak up to your neck.

Then it was dinner time (drum roll please). When we saw our table, which was set up with sukiyaki and about 8 other plates and bowls, our mouths were watering. Then the waitstaff started bringing more food and asked if we wanted rice. Of course we said yes. We like our rice nice and sticky. So anyway, look at this table... saffron shrimp, roasted scallop, yellowtail sashimi, pickled vegetables, miso soup, cold noodles in a sweet sauce, tempura... then they brought more.
I haven't been on a scale in months, but I eat unbelievable amounts of food. It's a feast here, and we like everything we try. This could be bad.
Monday - The temperature is around 5 below today. That's centigrade, which makes it about 23 degrees fahrenheit, and a bit warmer than yesterday. Allan's ski boots bit the dust when he tried to get them on this morning, something about the lining. When I asked how the rented ones were working out, he said they hurt his toe. DUH, his toe is broken! But there was an orthopedic surgeon on the trip, so Allan had an adjustment and now his toe feels better.
The bus headed home. Allan had a snooze during the trip. He'll be wearing the mask on his flight to Virginia in March. We got to the house LATE and Allan was up at his usual 6:00am for work, but he'll be in bed early tonight.
On the family front, we are getting a visit from Paul Schreiber. He's stopping by on his way to India, or is it China? We love company, and Paul is always interesting.
I bought a new computer. I'm not a high-tech girl, but I can google and blog. But servicing a computer? Uh uh! I need my ole buddy Eric for that. Alas, he's in Montreal. It had problems and I didn't know that Dell doesn't service computers purchased outside the US. Now I'm an Indian giver, because I took my old guy back from Allan, who wasn't really using it anyway. And the Navy Exchange gave me a full refund. Whew!

Monday, January 4, 2010

?! Fuku Buku Ro !?

In Japan, New Year's Day is something along the lines of Thanksgiving, a family day. So keeping with tradition, the three couples who went to Yokota for the weekend, complete with 4 teenage boys, hit the mall. We discovered fuku buku ro. I'm spelling it phoenetically, and that's my best guess.
So, the deal is this... merchants prepare grab bags at different prices, but always a good deal. Here are a couple of young guys hawking their merchandise. And notice the English signs, 10,000 yen is about $112 at the current exchange rate.
It begins on January 1st and continues for several days, depending on the store. We didn't indulge in the event, but our friends and the boys took to it like Mickey to Minnie.
A store called Victoria caught my eye (maybe lingerie?). Nope, sportswear. Since the kids wanted sportswear, they chose from the Fuku Buku Ro, and did pretty well, bargain-wise. Jay Schlesinger got a gym bag filled with clothes and a tiny towel. So everyone was happy.
Typical mall - jewelry, clothing, electronics, gift shops, food court and theatres. Prices are a little different. A movie can cost $20 per ticket, and I don't even know what the snack bar sells, but I'm guessing it's not cheap.

Guess what they sell here. Go ahead, I have no idea. I took this photo from across the mall on the third floor so I didn't actually walk by it. It's fun to speculate though, isn't it?

Melon soda is fast becoming Allan's favorite soft drink. It's made by Fanta, and I like it pretty well myself, although I'm not sure it's really melon flavored.
So the year of the ox is past and the year of the tiger begins.
In two weeks, another ski trip and Allan has a few more adventures planned for January. I'm struggle to keep up.

Friday, January 1, 2010

It Was A Very Good Year

Looking back over 2009, I'm thinking that it has been an incredible year. On January 1st, Allan and I were in Israel. This trip took place just a few months after we moved to the east coast of Florida to establish ourselves in Stuart, a place that would be perfect for retirement.
This is us at the aquaduct at Caesarea, Israel and the photo below is Allan at the Western Wall.
We celebrated our 25th anniversary in April. I don't know how he has managed to stay with me for so long but I can say the man is tenacious, and I'm better for it.

We made a lifestyle change in September to live in Japan. Now I wonder, who else could I have married that would have given me such an amazing life?
We've toured and sailed around parts of Europe, skied in the US, Canada and now Japan, and been diving in the Caribbean. Our plan now is to see as much of Australia and Asia as possible.

And on December 31st, we're with friends at the Yokota Air Base Officers' Club. We're spending two nights at the AirForce Lodge and after our time here, I want Allan to work for the Air Force. The room at the AF Lodge was twice what we had (for 53 days) at the Navy Lodge, and it was cheaper.

We had great fun at the party. For $25, we had heavy hor d'oeuvres, entertainment, dancing, midnight champagne, and breakfast.

It was a night with the Beatles (Japanese Beatles - I can't make this stuff up). The group was called Ricky and the Michelle, I don't think they understood that MeeShell is actually a girl's name.

This is Ricky, obviously the John Lennon impersonator, although he did most of the singing. They played a good bit of the Beatles playbook and even a few Wings and post-Beatles Lennon music.

I don't remember Paul or John shouting out "Doomo Arigatoo, wakarimashitaka" ("Thank you, do you understand?") after each song, but that's what Ricky did.

Ricky and the Michelle

They sounded amazingly like the Fab Four. Our table broke out in laughter when they did the clicking and echoing sound effects from Yellow Submarine. I thought Yellow Submarine would be a good name for the group, but my brother John pointed out that they wouldn't want a name that referred to them as 'yellow'. Yeah, he's probably right.

They knew most of the song lyrics, but with the occasional line that they didn't know, they filled in with similar sounding syllables which had no meaning in English.

It was a fun way to end an exciting and wonderful year. I had no idea what was ahead of me on January 1, 2009, and I don't know if 2010 will be as full of surprises, but keep watching, and I'll let you know.
And take a chance this year, it could turn out great!
As it says on Allan's hat, 'Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu'.