Saturday, February 28, 2015

Baked Cheesecake Kit Kats

You read that right...bakeable Kit Kats! They're Bake 'n Tasty Mini Kit Kats to be exact. A kind stranger translated the package for me when I bought them. Last year they came out with bakeable custard pudding Kit Kats and I was sad to miss them. Fast forward to last Monday and I found the boxes with three mini packages at a convenience store for less than ¥150. I bought two boxes so we'd be able to taste test them "raw" and after they were in the oven.

We don't have a toaster oven so I put them on a foil-lined cookie sheet and under the broiler for a few minutes. They darkened fairly quickly so keep a close eye on them. There are instructions on the back...they don't do me much good, even with Google Translate, so I stood in front of the oven with my daughters diligently watching.

We let them cool for a minute or two, I snapped a picture and they were scarfed down! My younger daughter preferred them before they went into the oven and my older daughter and I loved them after. Not only did they taste like cheesecake, the texture was spot-on. The cookie inside wasn't crunchy...they were perfect! We'll be buying more if I can find them again...I looked in five or six stores (including grocery stores) before finding them.

I found the commercial for them on YouTube. If you subscribe to Pass the Chopsticks and receive it in your email you may need to visit this post directly in order to view the video.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sakura Scented & Washlet Toilet Paper

We love the toilets in Japan. The Toto Washlet is something I've wanted since I first sat on one here in 2008. There's nothing like sitting on a heated toilet seat on a cold day or in the middle of the night. The first time I had that weird feeling that someone had just gotten up leaving the seat warm. I wrote about toilets when we lived here in 2009; click here to read it

While out and about last week I came across these packages of TP. The blue one on the left has double absorption and is specifically made to use with washlets. The pink one is seasonal with sakura (cherry blossoms), has the flower print and is even scented! We found blueberry scented TP before, but never sakura. 

The only English on the pink package reads, "Elleair is made with the finest quality and ultimate softness to bring comfort back into your life." Between this awesome TP and the heated seat, I'm pretty comfortable! 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Royal Doritos at Family Mart

I was out and about yesterday exploring and came across these Doritos. Wasabi & beef and shrimp & mayo. Which would you prefer to try? Both of these are limited editions, so get 'em when you see 'em! 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Nothing Says "Romance" Like Domino's Pizza

Domino's Pizza in Japan has a special running this week for Valentine's Day. If your significant other doesn't like chocolate...or really likes pizza, check this out. For ¥1300 or about $11 USD, you can get a medium heart-shaped cheese and pepperoni pizza. 

If you order a large pizza for ¥3000 they'll throw in the heart pizza for free. All of the details, including the coupon you've got to use, can be found here. The offer ends Saturday. 

Valentine's Day in Japan is a little different than in the United States. Traditionally women give men a gift on Valentine's Day and in return, on White Day (March 14th), men give a gift to said women. 

Back to the pizza...another option is to get 50% off a pizza worth ¥3000 or more and if you do that, you'll get another coupon for White Day. Oh la la!

The second coupon below is for those dining alone. If you'd like, when the deliveryman shows up with your pizza, he will conduct a "kabe don" or wall pound. Just like what you see in the picture. Romantic? Hmmm....maybe in the movies!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Buying a Car on Base

Car for sale at the Lemon Lot
Most people on base drive around a 10 year old car. Some people go nuts and buy cars you can't get in the a Nissan Skyline GTR. There isn't much point to it since most roads are limited to 60 kph...that's a whopping 37 mph. The Japanese cars tend to have lower mileage compared to the U.S. For example, the 2005 car we bought for me has about 60,000 km on it which is roughly 37,000 miles. The Japanese have to pay for mandatory inspections (called Shaken) and higher fees on these older cars which can make owning them expensive, so a lot of people just end up getting new cars instead. We don't have to pay these fees under the Status of Forces Agreement, so it makes sense to drive the older cars since they've got plenty of life left. 

There are several places where you can get a car. The easiest is from the MWR  "Lemon Lot" on base next to the commissary and Youth Center. People PCSing out as well as spouses who work with used car dealers sell their cars here. There's also a Facebook page called Yokosuka Auto Resale with car ads. You could buy a car out in town if you'd prefer. Another option is to get in touch with one of the dealers and ask them to find you a specific car if you know what you'd like. We've bought our cars at the Lemon Lot both times we've lived here. The turnover is quick so keep that in mind when looking around. 

The purchase process is fairly similar to the U.S. Call the number on the ad, test drive it and negotiate a price. Most of the cars are between $2000 and $4000 USD. The cars we've bought have had to be paid for in U.S. cash, so if you bank with USAA make sure to move money into Navy Federal to withdraw. It helps to look for cars that have already passed base inspection and have about two years of Japanese Compulsory Insurance (JCI). JCI is liability insurance that is attached to the car. If the car doesn't already have it or it's expiring soon, you have to pay for two years of insurance up front. From memory two years of JCI is about $300-$500 depending on the car. A base inspection costs about $40 USD plus cost of needed repairs. 

Yokosuka City Hall
Once you put down a deposit or buy the car outright, the seller should give you all of the paperwork including the bill of sale, title, JCI, inspection and some others we couldn't read! Your first stop is the insurance office to get your own personal insurance (different than need both). It's in the same building where you got your license. You could also go out in town to other insurance offices. It used to be cheaper out in town so we did that last time, but the base has a new contractor selling insurance with competitive rates. They speak perfect English and know the base insurance rules which makes things simple.  It was about $300 for a year of insurance.

If you don't already have it, you'll need a parking certificate to prove you've got a spot to park the car. We got ours from Housing when we signed the paperwork accepting our house. If you haven't done that yet the Navy Lodge can provide it as well. The process is different if you'll be living out in town. We haven't had to do that so I don't know specifics. 

If the car has never been registered to a service member before (buying from a dealer in town or on base) you'll have to go to Yokosuka City Hall (10 min walk outside the gate) to get a temp plate. Bob had to go through this process with my car three weeks ago and his car last week. They're used to sailors coming in so they've got signs in English and some employees spoke English as well. It cost ¥750 and is good for five days. 
A convenience store inside Yokosuka City Hall
Next stop is the Vehicle Registration Office (VRO) which is also in the same building as insurance and licensing. They'll review all of the paperwork and make sure everything's in order to go to the Land Transportation Office (LTO) in Yokohama for registration. LTO is similar to what we know as a DMV. VRO will also give you a temporary base pass and a slip of paper listing all registration fees you'll have to pay. Ours was just under ¥20,000, so about $180 USD. This is on top of the price of the car. If you had to get a temporary plate the car will have to be driven to the LTO to have the permanent plate attached. They are put on with special screws and can't be removed. If you bought your car from another service member it'll already have a military plate (called a "Y plate") on it, so only the paperwork has to go to LTO. 

You can go to LTO on your own if you'd like but it's confusing and intimidating for new arrivals...especially if you've never driven off base before. The majority of us pay about $50 for an "LTO runner" to do it for us. They advertise in the base paper and on the Yokosuka Auto Resale Facebook page. They'll take your paperwork and drive your car if needed. Round trip highway tolls cost ¥2900, so your share will depend on how many sets of paperwork are being taken. Our car was back within a couple of hours which is worth every penny of the $50 we paid. 

Once the LTO runner is back your temp plate will need to go back to City Hall. Our runner returned it for us. Once that's done head back over to VRO with all paperwork and they'll check it over again. If it's good-to-go you'll get base stickers. 

I realize this sounds daunting, but we bought our car on a Wednesday night, went to insurance/City Hall/VRO Thursday and had the LTO run done Friday morning. By lunch we were street legal with our own plates! 

Monday, February 2, 2015

License to Drive

I wanted to cover what it takes to get a drivers license and buy a car. Since it's our second time here it was a little easier, but it was bewildering our first time around. What I write is from our experience. 

Getting a license is fairly easy for military under the Status of Forces Agreement

(SOFA) when compared to getting an actual Japanese license. Google it sometime if you're up for some interesting stories about passing a driving test in a country where you can't understand the language. For us, it's part of the initial check-in during the week long Area Orientation Brief/Intercultural Relations class. Make sure your U.S. driver's license is valid and current because without it you won't be able to drive here or even take the driving portion of the test. Florida has been letting Bob drive on an expired license since he's in the military, but he had to renew it before we moved here.
They passed out driving manuals on the first day of AOB so you've got the week to study for the written test. It covers signs, parking regulations and practices that are unique to Japan. If you're motivated you can find it on the CFAY website. The instructors come to the last day of the class to give the written exam. The first three hours of the day are spent teaching the book and going over some safety rules. The test took approx 35 mins and was multiple choice. The briefing covered just about everything on the test so pay close attention. People who scored 100% on the test got first dibs on scheduling their driving test for the following week. Bob did...go figure! Everyone else
made a mad dash to the front of the room to sign up after that. So you may want to sit front and center that day. Hint, hint.

Plan on the driving portion taking an hour for both the test and paperwork and bring your US license, orders and family entry approval with you. We scheduled our test together and had a third person with us along with the instructor. We drove around the base and had to back in to a parking spot. It was fairly easy but prepare yourself to turn on the wipers instead of the blinker since they're on opposite sides than we're used to. If you pass you'll be issued a SOFA license that you'll have to carry along with your stateside license and military ID.

My next post will cover the car buying process. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Izakaya Dinner at Kuimonoya

Restaurant entrance
In the military community a hail and farewell is held to say goodbye to one and welcome another and sometimes it’s done for spouses too. Last week a group of wives from Bob’s new command met for dinner at Kuimonoya Wan on Blue Street in Yokosuka for a hail and farewell. It’s on the 7th floor of a pachinko parlor and The Lockup is in the same lobby. 

Shoe storage
It's an Izakaya restaurant which is quite common here. They're known for food and more so for drinks after work. I suppose they could be compared to a pub in the U.K. 

When we walked in we had to take our shoes off and store them in a locker. The key was a wood block about the size of my iPhone 4s. Since we were shoeless the restaurant provided sandals at the entrance to the ladies room. At that moment I was happy to be wearing socks, and not ugly ones or a pair with holes! I've been to restaurants where shoes had to be removed and others that didn't require it. It was pouring that night and we were still living out of our suitcases, so sneakers or ballet flats were my two options. 

Restroom shoes
I was talking to one of the ladies sitting across from me about Japan, how much we love it (she does too!) and the unique things we missed about it when we left in 2010. She mentioned the mouthwash dispenser mounted on the wall in the restroom. That was a first for me...I don't remember seeing that before. Naturally I snapped a picture of it and the shoes on the floor (with my pretty socks).  

The food was excellent. We ordered family style and some of us ordered our own dishes. I had sweet potatoes gnocchi and fried soft shell crab. I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't what was on the plate. The entire crab was there and in tact. We ate and all. One of the Japanese ladies with us said the shell is very healthy. I took her word for it as I ate one after the other. 

We were in a private room with sliding doors and a button on the wall to call the wait staff. As we ordered he entered it into something handheld that looked like a cell phone and that sent the order to the kitchen. The 20 or so of us were seated at floor level and our legs were under the table in a sunk-in area.

Fresh squeezed
I stuck with water for the evening but next time will order a sour. It's a Japanese drink of shochu (Japanese vodka), soda (seltzer?) and fruit. Someone sitting across from me ordered a grapefruit one and to my surprise came the drink, a side of grapefruit and a juicer! I think it's a fresh Chuhai to be honest but didn't think to ask. I'm not sure of other fruit options on the menu, but next time I'm there, or at another Izakaya, I'll pay more attention to the beverage menu. 

Their menu was in Japanese and English. I'm anxious to go back to try more dishes!

Sweet potato gnocchi w/ gorgonzola
Oishii (delicious) crab

Monday, January 26, 2015

Green Tea Latte Oreos & More Fun Finds

Matcha is green tea
Last week I had to run to the ¥100 (100 yen) store to get a shoshinsha (new driver) magnet for my car. More on that in a future post. While there I got side tracked and had an hour to burn before picking the girls up from school, so naturally I grabbed a basket!

I love the ¥100 store...they're all over and I always found the neatest things there. I've written about them before and you can read it here. It can be compared to Dollar Tree or Family Dollar. Most things are about a buck, but some cost more.

I bought the strawberry sandwich at Lawson (like a 7-11) on my walk back to the base and it was surprisingly good. The crust had already been cut off the bread and in the sandwich was custard, strawberries and whipped cream. Like the orange white mocha at Starbucks, the combination sounds odd but it works. I washed it down with the salt & fruit drink. That was sweet, lychee flavored and had a salty aftertaste.

I loved the Hello Kitty clips to use for hanging the Hello Kitty window valance or curtains. My favorite find had to be the socks for the chair legs. I may end up getting a set for our kitchen table...I bet they'll stay on better than the adhesive pads I've got on them now. Are you in a swinging happy mood or bright whether it's fine or rainy? If so let me know and I'll send you the stationary to match your mood! Hello Kitty is everywhere here in Japan. She even has her own line of beverages...I didn't buy them, but considered getting the cocktail flavors. Be sure to LOOK and not miss the chocolate :)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Yokosuka Housing & the Navy Lodge

Once we arrived on base we stopped at PSD for those meeting sponsors and then were off to the Navy Lodge. We got checked in, got to our [newly renovated] room with a queen bed, a bunk bed, shower (no tub) small fridge and microwave ($65/day) and all took a nap. By this time it was about 2 pm and we were physically and mentally drained. Our reservation was made months prior for two queen beds and a kitchenette for $72/day (we had that in 2008), but they weren't available. At check in we were placed on a waiting list for one of those rooms. During our 18 days there we did not get into the larger and more comfortable room. Our sponsor was very kind and left a bag of snacks for us at the front desk. The Lodge also provided a welcome basket/bag per their website (a quart of milk and some bottled water). They've got coffee every morning in the lobby, but not the complimentary breakfast that "starts the day off right" as stated on their website. There is a NEX mini mart next door which is convenient and the commissary is a 10-15 min walk away. We ate out in town quite a bit and made microwavable meals in the room. There's a Chili's a stone's throw away from the Lodge too.

They're renovating right now (started in November) so the playroom is an office and the playground out back is closed. It's scheduled to be completed in March. They've got two laundry rooms on the second floor but only one is accessible via the elevator; the other stairs only. If you need to print something you've got to email it to one of the staff and they'll print it out for you. At first we were told there were no printers but I asked another person and got a different answer.

The Yokosuka Housing Office is next door to the Navy Lodge and has a brief at 8:30 am every day except the first Wednesday of the month. Get there at 8 when they open, sign up for the brief (if you haven't already in advance) and fill out the paperwork. Several ladies were going in and out of the room and shortly after each person was handed a piece of paper with their name on top. On it was a list of available units specified for their rank and family size. On Bob's list was a handful of Yokosuka apartments, no Yokosuka townhouses, one Ikego townhouse and a lengthy list of Ikego apartments. He selected what we wanted, handed in the paper and was on his way to work. He made an appointment for later that afternoon for us to sign additional paperwork. Units were available so there was no waiting list for housing. Our control date was June 20th but that was irrelevant. Everyone in the room was assigned housing that day.

As far as the Navy Lodge is concerned, make your reservations as soon as possible. Before finding out we had to fly on the military flight we planned to arrive a couple of days after Christmas. I first tried making Navy Lodge reservations back in early October.  We didn't have dates or details, but reserving a room was the priority. I tried the toll free number and the hotel directly and was told the same thing. Their calendar only went out until Dec 31st so each week I called trying to extend it through January. It wasn't until the week of Thanksgiving that I was able to do that. When we were checking in there were people that said they had made a reservation but no rooms were available. They were given a Certificate of Non-Availability (CNA) and sent to a hotel off base.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Flying the Patriot Express from Seattle

Mt. Fuji during our approach. 
 When we moved here from Hawaii in 2008 we flew commercial, but we weren't that lucky this time around. 

Bob and I made calls and searched online for any information that would be helpful in preparation for our flight to Japan. Air Mobility Command has a website but it's vague, somewhat outdated and, in our experience, not entirely accurate.

The AMC terminal is in the SEATAC Airport. We were issued commercial tickets to Seattle and then were told to check in on Saturday night from 11 pm until 1 am Sunday morning. Check in was next to the Hawaiian Airlines counter. On the SEATAC website it's labeled as "1." The car rental shuttle dropped us off right in front of it. The departure time was scheduled for 5 am Sunday. According to the person at the AMC desk that I spoke with over the phone, the earlier we checked in the higher our chances of sitting together as a family. 

Long line to check in by 11:15 p.m.
One would assume seats would already be assigned because all of the passengers are traveling on orders, but that wasn't the case. We were staying with friends at the sub base in Kitsap so we were able to leave for the airport that night. Other people in the line of hundreds had flown into the airport that afternoon and were tired, bored and annoyed with the arrangements that had been made by SATO and out of their control. Two lines were formed and we were told to get into the one with families and people traveling with pets.  

There wouldn't be enough time to check in and get a hotel room to rest and let the kids sleep, so we were stuck at the airport. A map we found showed 24 hour Denny's about a 10-15 min walk away (not a great area). Our other option was the USO. We read that it gets packed in was. We were there from midnight until 4 am. Our flight was delayed a bit so we were sitting there for longer than originally thought.

Thank goodness for the SEATAC USO! Without it we would have been laying down on the ground in the
terminal. There were quite a bit of people doing that...some had spent the evening at the USO and some didn't know it was an option. When we got there they had milk, juice boxes, water, apple sauce, pre-made tuna sandwiches and some pastries. They had free wifi, some couches, a family room with cribs, a media room with recliners and a large TV and a luggage storage area. We got drinks and took advantage of the wifi while trying to stay awake. Our goal was to fall asleep on the plane since we would be landing at 9 am.

Fridge in the USO
Around 1 am food was brought in from restaurants that had closed. We had salads, wraps, sandwiches and fruit salad cups. The volunteer staffers were wonderful and were doing their best to make us all comfortable. Some people were laying on the couches and taking up the whole thing for themselves, so our younger daughter fell asleep on my lap at the table we were at. Jim, a volunteer, came over with a blanket for us. Our four hours in there seemed to drag on, but the volunteers made it much better. We really would have preferred to fly commercial or to have a military flight during normal operating hours when lounges and restaurants in the terminal would be open.

It took about an hour to leave the USO and get to the gate. Security opens at 4 am so we lined up a few minutes before. AMC doesn't participate in Pre-check, so allow for extra time in the regular line. The irony is that it's free to military members...the girls and I get it too. We took the SEATAC tram to the S terminal. The coffee place by the gate was opening up so I grabbed breakfast and a drink for each of us.

Beef stew
Boarding started with O6 and above and then opened to families and then single members. The plane was a commercial 767 flown by a charter company. Seats were spaced 2-3-2 and the entire plane looked like coach class. We were given breakfast around 8 am PST and dinner a couple of hours before we landed. 

The AMC website has a PDF claiming meals are "comparable to commercial airlines business class, and special meals such as kosher, children's, diabetic, and vegetarian can be ordered with a 24-hour advance notice." An announcement was made offering pancakes or an omelette for breakfast and dinner was a choice of chicken with pasta or beef stew. 
Omelette with sausage

We travel. We travel a lot and earned enough miles to fly in business class to Europe (this past summer) and SE Asia (summer 2013). These meals were in no way comparable to business class. The two meals we were issued could be compared to coach meals. If you've got younger kids I recommend a snack for them and/or getting a meal before boarding. We had both since our expectations weren't high and it worked out well. We used the ear plugs and eye masks from amenity kits we've gotten over the years. If you've got them, bring them. There were a lot of young kids on board and the crying was non-stop. Most on board were families so we had more kids on this flight than the average commercial flight.

After landing at Yokota everyone deplaned, but those staying at Yokota or going to Yokosuka had a short brief. The guy there stamped our no-fee passports, we signed up for a shuttle bus and then we headed out the door to a small baggage claim area. We waited about 45 mins in the lobby for the shuttle to board and then we were off for the two hour ride to Yokosuka.