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.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Orange White Mocha at Starbucks

Starbucks in Japan never fails. They offer drinks I've never heard (or even thought of) throughout the year and often times put the Secret Menu to shame. Shortly after we got here in 2008 they had coffee jelly cappuccino on the menu. My favorite is the Sakura Steamer during sakura (cherry blossom) season. Anyway, it was pouring the other day and was very windy. My shoes were soaked through, my jeans were wet and sticking to my legs me making me even colder and I needed to burn time before picking the kids up from school.

We hadn't bought our car yet so I was at the mercy of the base shuttle bus and its schedule. I needed to dry off, warm up and planned on getting a white mocha. That plan changed when I saw this orange white mocha with caramel sauce. Yum! I love all of these things but wasn't sure how the combined flavors would be. Believe it or not, it worked.

It had orange sugar, orange zest, Valencia orange syrup, espresso, steamed milk, orange whipped cream and caramel...all kinds of delicious goodness. I got a tall for ¥460 and not only was it worth every yen, it was elegant and warm as promised!  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Katie the Cookier

I love baking, always have. A little over a year ago I started decorating cookies with royal icing and fell in love with it. When we found out we were moving back to Japan I had these kokeshi doll cutters custom made from Truly Mad Plastics. I post pictures of what I've made here if you want to check it out. It's a public page so you don't need a Facebook account to view it. I am anxious to start baking and decorating again! We're hoping to be in our house and settled by mid February...

Sunday, January 11, 2015

We're Back in Japan!

It's been a long time since I've posted...and there are a lot of things I didn't post after we left Japan for Dam Neck, VA. Looking back at the photos made me miss it too much and I couldn't bring myself to do it. I'll get around to it one of these days... After a little bit of time in Dam Neck, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Newport, RI and Monterey, CA we are back in Japan! We've been here a week and are happy to be back. Things are hectic and we're not in a house yet, but once things settle down I'll start posting again.