Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Beautiful View of Fuji-san from Sagami Bay

We took a drive out to Hayama today, only about 20-25 minutes from where we live. Julie found a picture of this place and wanted to try to find it. She drove, I navigated.

The first spot we found was off of Route 134 in Hayama, and it was a turn off into a parking lot called Toteishi Parking. It was behind a building and hidden, but there was a street sign for it. We parked and saw a bunch of people with cameras and tripods. It's a beautiful scenic view of Mt. Fuji (Fuji-san as the Japanese call it). One of the men offered Keanna and Sydney the U.S. I'd say no, but here it's different. He was so sweet and kind even with the language barrier. On the way out we passed by Restaurant Don, and the name wasn't anything notable but the writing on the side of the building was! "First Floor Settle space/Second Floor Placer space/The topic of this house is Humanility and Performance." The view of Mt. Fuji was okay from here, but it wasn't the spot we were looking for.

We headed towards the Emperor's Summer Palace keeping the water on our left. Shortly after passing that and Route 134 forking with Route 207 (get on Route 207 for the view), we saw what we came for, Sagami Bay, the red torii gate, Hayama Lighthouse (also known as Yujiro Lighthouse) and a beautiful view of Fuji-san.

If you go, make sure it's during the winter time while Mt. Fuji is visable. During the spring, summer and early fall months the haze can hide the view.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Seijin no Hi - Coming of Age Day

Seijin no hi, 成人の日, is a monumental day for those turning 20 years old during that calendar year. It's a national holiday and celebrates Coming of Age. Turning 20 is a big deal here because not only is it the legal age for voting, drinking and smoking, it's the age you're considered an adult. So the only people who actually become of age are those with birthdays between January 1st and 12th. The others will have to wait until their actual birthday.

I went to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu in Kamakura, the same place
I went to on New Year's Eve. All the girls looked beautiful and were wearing special kimono called furisode (振袖), and apparently it's the most formal type of kimono that unmarried women can wear.

This was a fairly quick trip. Julie stayed in the car with the kids and I ran out and snapped pictures with both of our cameras! It was a beautiful ceremony, and I wish I could understand what they were saying!
I took pictures of families a lot that afternoon, and some of them let me take a picture with my own camera. Love it!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Let's Talk Toilets

Every time I go into a bathroom I'm not sure what I'll find. I mean, clearly the obvious, but the variations of toilets here just amazes me; the variations and the amenities. Even the McDonalds on base has a fancy toilet! And in case you don't know which buttons do what, usually instructions are posted inside each stall. Sometimes the bathrooms have squat toilets. My friend Julie loved those when potty training her son, but I have to be honest, I don't like them since I'm not used to them, and Keanna is just plain terrified of them! Usually there's both types of toilets in public bathrooms, so I've gotten in the habit of checking before choosing.

Lately every seat I've sat on has been heated. I lost my appreciation for that after spending a few years living in Hawaii, but let me tell you, have you ever been ice cold and unexpectedly sat on a warm seat? It's wonderful! Bob and I agree that before we leave here we're going to buy a fancy seat. I'm not talking about only a heated seat, but a Japanese seat.

Japanese toilets often have four or five buttons ... One button, labeled with a music note, creates a flushing sound when pushed to cover any embarrassing bathroom noises, which, from what I've heard, is any noise a person would make in the bathroom. (Sometimes the buttons are on the wall, other times it's attached to the toilet). The others mostly relate to the integrated bidet, which both sprays clean water and blow dries, right from the toilet. And the spray button and bidet button hit two different areas...the first few times I tried it I laughed so hard I snorted. Then I hit the music note button to try to cover up the snorting that comes with my laughing. Anyway if you ever come to visit here, don't say I haven't warned you! But beware, the shock of pressing a strange button and suddenly feeling a jet of water "down there" can lead to jumping and soaked pants. Well, maybe not soaked pants, but a few drips or dribbles!

Here is a collection of pictures I've taken during our nine months here, and a video too. I recorded this video on December 20th at a rest area off the expressway (highway) on our way to see the Nagano Snow Monkeys.

This is the bathroom from the Begonia & Owl Park. We went here in September and again in December. Notice the water on top of the toilet is running? It did that when the toilet flushed.

And here are toilet seats for sale. This particular store was in Akihabara. We headed up there on will be coming soon. Anyway, the toilet seat on the right was plugged in. When I walked by it the lid came up scaring the snot out of me. You can see that this one includes the water squirting.

And here's a bathroom at a rest stop. When we walked in the lit board on the ceiling told us what types of toilets were in which stalls, and the blue lights tell you which is available...the red light means occupied. Pretty nifty, eh? And every bathroom at these rest stops, and even at stores and restaurants have a little urinal in them and a lower sink for kids.

The picture on the left is an example of the squat toilet I talked about earlier. One foot on either side and you face the side with the tank. There's a pipe you can hang on to if you need. On the right is another example of a lower sink...Sydney is two and it's the perfect height for her. Keanna's using the hand dryer.

I saw this sign outside a stall at the rest area on the way home from the Nagano snow monkeys. I've never seen the changing table with a person standing on it before. So naturally I went in and snapped a shot. My guess is it's to stand on, without shoes, to change your clothes. That way your socks stay clean/dry? And see the toilet, it's got the control pad for water squirting, noise, heated seat, etc. The thing hanging above the toilet is a kid's seat that can be placed on the seat...just like what some people buy when potty training their kids.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Year in Pictures

I got this idea from my friend Megan. She's an Army wife and we met in Hawaii a couple of years ago.

Sydney turned two and we just found out Bob was about a month away from being split-toured (ahem, not by choice) to Japan so we started to really "play tourist" around Oahu. We went to a shrimp truck for the first time (really should have done it sooner) and got shave ice on the North Shore.

We left our house in Manana Housing in Hawaii and used Bob's COT Leave to spend time with family in Connecticut. The girls built snowmen with my sisters.

Bob found an incredible deal on a flight and hotel in Munich, Germany so we went for four days while the girls stayed with my parents. Bob rented an Audi with a big and powerful engine and hit 240 kmh (145 mph) on the Autobahn. We got back and two weeks later left for Hawaii. After spending four days in Hawaii figuring out more move stuff and saying goodbye to some very near and dear friends, on March 27 we boarded our one-way flight to Tokyo.

We saw (The Great Buddha) Diabatsu on our AOB/ICR field trip and it was during the peak of cherry blossom season, Bob went out to sea, Housing called and said we got a unit and I accepted delivery of our HHG (household goods).

Keanna turned 4 and insisted on making her own pink birthday cake. Bob was in port for two weeks and during that time he turned 31. I also found a Carvel ice cream cake at the commissary which made me literally jump up and down in the freezer section. They're not available in Hawaii so finding them here was obviously a good thing. I also started this blog and got my first flavored Kit Kat, green tea.

Bob was back out to sea so we took a picture for him, my father and Jack, my father-in-law wishing them all a happy Father's Day and took our first ITT trip to Yunessun Spa in Hakone where fish ate the dead skin off our feet.

We took our second ITT trip, this time to Owakudani in Hakone. It's "The Great Boiling Valley" and eggs are hard boiled in the natural sulfurous hot springs making the shells black. The girls also got a pirate pool which they spent time in every day.

Bob got to fly off the ship and come home for a week for a special meeting; it was a surprise to the girls and they were thrilled to see him. And we went to a bon odori festival where Sydney got to get on stage to play the taiko drum.

I turned 29, Keanna had her first day of preschool and Bob finally arrived home! He was only home a week, but it was better than nothing.

Keanna's soccer season was in full swing and even Sydney got in on the fun. It was also Halloween and the girls went in coordinating costumes I made - a movie ticket and bucket of popcorn.
Did you notice Sydney's ticket number? It happens to be the date. Hardy har har!

We went to Yabusame held on Zushi Beach, Bob came home the third week of the month and the following weekend we went back to Owakudani in Hakone.

A few friends of mine along with the girls and myself made and delivered Christmas cookies to Housing, MWR, the post office, Maintenance and the fire station. The firemen were so appreciative they gave each kid got a hat and badge. Santa came to our house, ate all the cookies and drank the milk, the reindeer ate the reindeer food we made for them and left in the front yard and Bob (wearing his snowman pants) made the best ham to date.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year's Eve...Japanese Style

Akemashite Omedeto Gozaimasu (Happy New Year)! It's the year of the cow!

Bob had duty on New Year's Day, so since he had to get up early and didn't want to do anything New Year's Eve he offered to stay home with the girls. I had been wanting to go out and celebrate the new year, but didn't want to drink myself into oblivion or go to any bars or clubs. After reading about how the Japanese celebrated the new year I decided that's what I wanted to do; New Year's Eve Japanese style! I decided to go to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura, only a couple of train stops away from our house. I had been here before for Shichigosan back in November so I knew where I was going at least!

As of 6 pm on Wednesday night my plan was to go alone, people watch, snap some pictures and take it all in. A couple of hours later I talked to my friend Star and she was up for meeting me there. So around 10 pm I met Star, her husband and a few of their friends at the Kamakura Train Station. Even the train station was decorated for the new year. See the rope hanging above the wickets? You can read more about
New Year's decorations in one of my old posts.

The train was nearly empty, walking from Shin Zushi to Zushi Station was like a ghost town, and it wasn't until I got to Kamakura Station that the crowd was obvious. New Year's Eve in Japan is a family holiday. People go back to their home towns and businesses close up for nearly a week around the new year. Everything associated with the New Year is symbolic of "firsts" of the new year. So, the New Year gives a sense of renewal.

Anyway, getting back to it. We walked from the train station to the shrine via the
Dankazura walkway. It was lined with lanterns and that's when it hit me, "Wow, it's New Year's Eve and I live in Japan. Wow, I live in Japan!" The first time I saw it was the beginning of April. The trees that line either side of it are cherry blossoms and it was beautiful to walk through. Okay, side tracked we walked through there to the shrine and walked around for about an hour eating, trying sake and some new [to me] foods.

Around 11:30 pm I got in line and really started to notice the crowd; I've never seen that many people at a shrine before! Star and her group headed towards home but I wanted to stick around. At the top of the stairs is the area where you throw a coin and say a prayer for the new year. I guess from January 1-3 millions of people visit this shrine in order to do that. Thousands of us were in line waiting for the rope to lift up to let us through. There were bright lights along pathway and there were police/security scattered on either side of the wide line shouting things into a megaphone. I couldn't understand a word of it, but a couple of them were holding signs that said "Moment Please." There were two "checkpoints" where a giant rope stretched across the crowd. Police officers on either side held each end of the rope, and every time a whistle blew the rope lifted and we moved forward. Crowd control, and very well controlled crowd control.

I met a small group of girls in line that spoke very little English but grabbed my arm and I assumed that meant to stick with them (picture to the left). We got separated eventually but once I got up to the top of the stairs and said my prayer, I decided to pay the ¥100 and shake the box to get a stick and my fortune.
I was waiting in line for the fortune and I heard, "Hello, are you from America? I lived in Kentucky and am an English Literature major." I turned around and there was a girl, maybe 20, and her three friends. They were so sweet and kind and kept me under their wing. They were all practicing their English on me too. We stayed together maybe 20-30 minutes and we all got our fortunes together (the white slips of paper you see below)...they even translated mine for me. Well, they all looked and laughed together, then the one with the big fur collar, the one that lived in Kentucky for a semester, did her best to tell me in English what I had in store for me in 2009.

The train going back was busy but not over crowded. A heck of a lot more people got off than got on with me. I got a seat but there was standing room only. And since it was a holiday the trains run later than usual. So much fun, so glad I went and will never forget it! And speaking of year of the cow...I came across these guys on my way back to the train station around 2 am.

I took some video and compiled it together into two. You can see them below, but if you get this in your email you can also see them
here for part one and here for part two.