Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Monkeying Around with Wild Snow Monkeys in Nagano and Touring Matsumoto Castle

First, I want to say hi to Trasie with an "S." Thanks for introducing yourself on the trip, it was wonderful to meet you!!!

Second, isn't Bob's hat awesome? Greg, he thanks you for it...he never did wear it on the bridge of the USS Los Angeles, but it did come in handy that day. He has it hanging on the coat rack now and said that's going to be his winter hat. Sydney loves it too and you'll see in the pictures she was wearing it just as much as he was.

We took an ITT trip to Nagano [Sound familiar? The 1998 Winter Olympics were held here] to see the Wild Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani Yaenkoen. This was by far the most fun we've had on a trip. All the other ones we've gone on have been fun too, don't get me wrong, but this one was just special. It wasn't historical or cultural like the others have been. Well, the first part wasn't anyway...our second stop was Motsumoto Castle and that was more educational. Bob was in heaven though since it was set up like a museum in some areas. He read and studied every display just like he usually does, whereas Keanna and I attempted to climb up the steep steps in our socks and provided slippers (I wore them, Keanna didn't). The picture of the monkey at the above left was taken with my little camera, the one I use primarily for video. I'm happy with how it came out, but can't help but wonder how much better it would be had I taken it with my Rebel.

All of the pictures I took are in my Shutterfly album if you'd like to see them. The monkeys are wild, but they do lounge around in a manmade
onsen or hot spring. Some were relaxing, some were preening and some were running around amongst us. One even hit Bob in the butt because he was leaning against the fence one monkey was walking along, and apparently Bob was blocking the way. We were warned ahead of time not to make eye contact with them since the monkeys view it as a threat and/or challenge. They don't mind cameras though so that's a good thing! Keanna passed by one, but apparently got too close. She must have spooked him because he turned raised an arm and moved in her direction. She ran to Bob, the monkey took a few steps towards her and then the monkey turned in the other direction. I was down below taking pictures so I didn't see anything, just heard, "Mommmm, noooo dad, I want mooooommy." But she was fine and Bob did a good job of settling her down. Soon afterward we were taking pictures and monkeys were walking right by us. I love the picture to the right. I didn't notice it right away, but the monkey in the middle is staring right at the camera. The one on the right and in front appeared to have been the dominant male or female.

The walk from where the bus dropped us of to where the monkeys are was about 30 minutes. It's a trail, but there was no snow on the ground so it was easy. Keanna walked the whole thing (1.24 miles or 2 km) and Bob had Sydney on his shoulders for a little bit of it. I can imagine it'd take longer in the snow. You'll see pictures of the trail in the album so that'll give you a better idea of what I'm talking about. There was even a vending machine about 3/4 of the way up! There's also a camera there that posts pictures on their website. My friend Terri (fellow sub wife who I met in Hawaii and now lives in Guam) was able to view them as they came up, saved them and emailed them to me. Thanks Terri!!! I'll post one of them here and the rest can be seen in my album. There I am standing in the back and that's Keanna next to me, then Sydney and Bob next to her.

After the monkeys we ate lunch at a rest area on the expressway. We had to order the food at a vending machine, it spit out a ticket with a number on it, and when our number was called (in Japanese, not English) we picked it up at a counter. I got us a table while Bob stood at the counter looking for what he ordered. Here's a picture of the vending machine. At least it had pictures up at the top. One we went to this summer didn't have pictures and our guide told us what each one was so we knew what we were ordering. After we ate we went to the little store area and found three new Kit Kats. Nagano Apple, Chili Powder and Grape. Major Kit Kat jackpot since we hadn't seen or heard of these flavors before. I got another strawberry flavor too, but not at this rest area. I also saw the largest stick of bubble gum I ever was about the length of my forearm.

From lunch we headed to Matsumoto Castle. It's one of a few castles in Japan that's still in original form. Four castles are considered national treasures in Japan and this is one of them; construction started in 1592. We walked around the perimeter first then headed inside. I really wanted to walk across that red bridge and get a picture of us standing on it with the castle in the background, but that area is under construction until March. So FYI to anyone visiting there in the next few months since you'll run into the same thing.

The flights of stairs are steep inside the castle and it's not recommended for little kids. Keanna had no problem with it except for the one-way stairwell...Bob carried her up and down. Sydney stayed outside with the guide so I was able to enjoy it instead of lugging her. When you enter you have to take off your shoes. They'll give you a plastic bag and you'll carry them with you. They've got a bin of slippers that you can put on if you choose to. I opted to, Bob's feet were too big and Keanna's were too small.

One of my favorite rooms was the Moon Viewing Room. In the picture with the reflection the moon viewing room is the small area on the right side that looks like a porch, and here it is from the inside with Bob and Keanna. Apparently the moon can be seen three times from the moon viewing room. Once in the sky, once in the water below and once in your cup of sake. And they say it can be seen six times if your sake is strong! They've got a small gift shop on the grounds and the door to the right of the shop is an office. If you've got one of the shrine books and collect the stamps that's where to go.

We had a very good time and would like to take the trip again. And for those of you with little ones don't go just because you're told the kids can't handle it. If you want to carry them or you think they can handle the trail going to see the monkeys then go for it. We're so glad we did! And don't forget, if you want to see more pictures just click here to view the album.

Paper Making, Parrots on Our Heads and Waterfalls, Oh My...Again

We took another ITT trip to Nakatomi Washi Paper Village, Otodome Waterfall and Shiraito Waterfall and Kacho-en, the Begonia and Owl Park. We did it back in September and the girls and I had so much fun we decided to go back. This time we had Bob with us and my parents too! I'm not going to get into too much detail here, but will sum up our day.

Pictures from this trip are in my Shutterfly album if you're interested in seeing them. If you want to read more about it you can go to the post I wrote after our first trip.

First was the paper village and making paper to create a lampshade. A picture of our four completed lamps is below. After that we walked across the street to a grocery store, grabbed a snack and waited for our lamp shades to be done while others walked around the grounds and did some shopping. After that we stopped for lunch, and where we stopped had an absultely incredible view of a snow topped Mt. Fuji. Next was the Begonia and Owl Park, and again this was our favorite stop. For ¥100 (about $1) we bought a little cup filled with chopped apple for the birds to eat. As you'll see from the pictures and videos the birds loved it! Sydney had one fly and land on her arm last time, so this time she knew she didn't even want to hold a cup. Both Bob and my father were pooped on too, but Bob on his jacket and my dad on his shirt. The waterfalls was our last stop. The first was Otodome Waterfall. It reminded me
of one we saw on Kauai. To get to the second one, Shiraito Waterfall, we had to go down 100 steps. It's an easy walk though and the kids did fine too. I slowed the shutter speed on my camera and got some beautiful pictures of the waterfalls. I was so happy I finally figured out how to do it.

We had a fun day together and my parents were able to bring home a one-of-a-kind souvenir. Below is a picture of the lamps we made; from left to right: Bob's, mine, dad and mom's. Bob's says "3 HOURS" and has a bus on it because that's how long it took to get up there. And another picture of the waterfalls since I'm so happy with how they all came out.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Company from Connecticut

That's right, Nina and Ron, my parents, flew out from Connecticut to spend 12 days with us. We had a lot of fun with them and hopefully they enjoyed getting a small sample of what our life is like here in Japan.

Here are some pictures, and more can be seen here in my Shutterfly album. They range from a Christmas party on board the USS George Washington to walking around in town and seeing The Great Buddha (Daibatsu) and shopping, to eating out and having fun and laughing.

We went on an ITT trip too, and those pictures will be in my next entry.

The first video is my dad talking about ordering a coffee and the second is one of the highlights of the Christmas party in one of the hangars (of three) on the USS George Washington. As you'll see my father enjoyed the bubble wrap just as much (if not more) than the kids!

Blueberry Scented Toilet Paper and Lots More Shopping Finds

Christmas cotton candy, blueberry scented toilet paper (I hear it makes your bathroom smell great!), Men's Lipstick, hard boiled egg molds, rubber wood and not the game Sorry, but Don't Be Angry instead. The pictures are clickable, so click on them to read the packaging...that's the fun part! Most of these pictures are from Diaso (100 yen store) and 7-11. Have I mentioned how much I love shopping here?

Go Navy, Beat Army!

Every year for the Army-Navy game both USNA, USMA and AD members from the Army and Navy contribute "Spirit Spots." They'll show some on TV but a lot more inside the stadium. This year the USS Scranton (SSN 756) filmed their own and it has to do with one of my favorite shows, "The Office."

And now for your viewing pleasure...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Hakone Open Air Museum, Hakone Shrine & Owakudani

We enjoyed it so much the first time we, well I, decided that we would go back! Only this time we had Bob with us and we were able to go to two different places, the Hakone Open Air Museum and Hakone Shrine. We also went back to Owakudani, The Great Boiling Valley, and over to Lake Ashi. The picture at the top of my blog is of Lake Ashi and the torii gate on Lake Ashi. We're actually standing right there in this picture.
I took a lot of pictures and put the rest in my Shutterfly album if you want to see them.
We stopped at a rest area halfway through the drive down there. We were all hungry and ready for a more substantial breakfast. So what did they want? Vending machine food! But not just any vending machine food, this was "Casual Frozen Foods." Keanna got the fish on the bottom right and Sydney got fried potatoes/french fries. Keanna didn't actually get fish, but it's Ningyoyaki which is sort of like cake filled with a bean paste.
The Hakone Open Air Museum was a lot of fun and the kids had a really good time. I'm not an art person, never have been. I can barely draw stick figures, and going to art museums just don't interest me. This place had sculptures, but so many things were hands on. Their favorite area was this room with nets hanging from the ceiling. They were able to climb up and in there too! Neither of them made it to the top, but they had fun trying. After giving them the "We're leaving in five minutes" warning a few times we headed out only to find another play area for kids! I don't know how to describe it, but it was like plastic bubbles all connected into a maze. But it wasn't flat, it was climbable from the inside. They didn't enjoy this nearly as much so we left and headed towards my favorite part, the footbath spa.

Halcyon. That's the best adjective I can think of to describe this footbath. The water was heated and it had citrus fruit in there. Our guide gave us paper towels to use for wiping our feet and legs off and I'm so glad she did. We sat in there for about six or seven minutes, but boy oh boy would I have liked to stay longer. We were on a time constraint and wanted to see other areas, so each part we did see was cut short. As soon as I put my feet in a sense of comfort and relaxation came over me. And even when we were done and walking away I just felt refreshed.

After the Open Air Museum we headed over to Owakudani and the Hakone Ropeway. The girls were very excited and remembered our last trip here. We rode across the valley, ate the black eggs, had lunch and headed over to Lake Ashi and Hakone Shrine. I'm trying to cut this short since I've already written so much! Here are some highlights, and again, you can see the rest of the pictures in my Shutterfly album. Unfortunately the sky wasn't clear so we couldn't see Fujisan (Mt. Fuji).

After Owakudani we headed over to Lake Ashi for a boat ride and then a visit to Hakone Shrine. This place was beautiful and right on the water! Our [fav guide, Kazumi explained everything to us beforehand and I am including a short video. We've gone on three or four trips with her and she is our favorite!

If you're in the area and can make a trip to Hakone do it, and if you're thinking about traveling to Japan for a vacation make an effort to visit there. There is so much to see and do, and don't forget that Yunessun Spa is there, the place with the fish that eat the dead skin off your feet! I went there with the girls in June and Bob and I want to go back...only without the kids!